Pitfalls of online shopping

Pretoria - I’ve had quite a few responses to last week’s column about “penny auction” website Viaziz, which has duped many South Africans into believing they were just registering on the site when in fact they were agreeing to buy about R2 500 worth of “credits”.

The site invites people to “sign up for free” then supply their credit card details in order to complete the “registration”. But the small print reveals what they’re really agreeing to when supplying their credit card details: “Package: 300 new customer welcome credits. You will be debited R2499.99.”

Cybercriminals are not only interested in bank card numbers: login credentials for online banking and e-payment accounts are also firmly in their sights. Picture: Boxer Ngwenya. Credit: INDEPENDENT NEWSPAPERS

This is especially misleading, as, under the site’s more accessible FAQ section, the following promise is made: “Registration is totally FREE with no nasty hidden charges that other sites forget to tell you about! The ONLY cost associated with our website is the bid package costs.”

It fails to say that you can’t register without buying that package.

Among Viaziz’s terms and conditions, well hidden on the site, the truth lurks: “You agree that once you enter your card details and press either ‘Add Card & Finish’ or ‘Finish’ you have confirmed that you wish to have your card debited for the stated amount and you are fully aware that you will be charged for your selected bid package…”

That’s highly misleading, and, as law professor Robin Palmer pointed out, it falls foul of the Consumer Protection Act, which is all about protecting consumers from deceptive practices.

Sadly, if you don’t know what to look for on e-commerce sites, you’re easy prey.

Software expert Steven Silbert, of e-commerce hub E-Strategic, said there were several technical and other issues on the Viaziz site – and others – which raise a red flag:

When making payments, check for the padlock sign and “https” in the address bar, which tells you that you are on an SSL-secured site. Websites that are SSL secured will encrypt sensitive information, such as credit card numbers, during the transaction.

Also dispensing advice on how not be ripped off when transacting in cyberspace is Doros Hadjizenonos, South African sales manager with Check Point Software Technologies.

Here are some useful tips:

It’s all great advice. Use it to avoid the downside of transacting online. - Pretoria News