Beware of fake digital platforms in online shopping. Photo: Timothy Bernard/African News Agency (ANA)

CAPE TOWN – We are living in a world of digital platforms and e-commerce, where things that appear real are often not. 

Shopping online, especially during the festive season, can be perilous. There is an army of scammers lurking online, waiting for naive consumers to prey upon. Recently, even users of well known digital platforms have been the victims of fraud and lost their funds as a result.

There has never been a better time to be aware and vigilant. What can one do to remain safe while transacting online? The answers to this question can never be perfect, but can only serve to inform until something is done to safeguard consumers online.

In the past, fake websites were the main source of online crimes. However, the danger now is lurking across the digital eco-system. Fake mobile applications (apps) and fake online ads have entered the fray.

Scammers use fake websites to lure unsuspecting consumers to purchase items using illegitimate websites that appear to be real. In this regard, it's not enough to look at the branding of the website and conclude it is a real one.

Consumers ought to check it all, including website addresses. More importantly, consumers ought to type the website address manually on the browser instead of clicking from an email or search engine.

Mobile applications have also been added to the weaponry of scammers. As far as apps are concerned, the best approach to avoid being scammed is to download the app from a credible app store or from the retail website itself. Consumers also ought to use only highly rated apps that can serve as an indicator of legitimacy.

Not all adds are legitimate, as some lead consumers to fake websites. Besides avoiding buying based on a link recommended by an add link, one ought to be weary of ridiculously low prices (a new iPhone can never have 90 percent discount). If it appears to be too good to be true, it’s probably best to avoid.

Public wi-fi has become another source of online crimes and consumers are advised not to conduct online transactions using public wi-fis.

Due to the level of sophisticated methods used by online scammers it is becoming more difficult for ordinary online users to identify fake digital platforms. More should be done to protect citizens from online crimes. Although some institutions do conduct online crime awareness education, this challenge cannot be left to just individual businesses. 

Major awareness campaigns will play a critical role in curbing this challenge. Beyond just education, the plumbing of online platforms has to be built for consumer safety.

There's a need for technology and business community collaboration to create an internet that is safe for consumers to transact with less concern.

This challenge has to be addressed at the level of internet browser creators as well as domain name registries. These institutions ought to do more to stop online crime syndicates. 

For now we are far away from a world free of fake digital platforms. As long as this is the case, consumers need to be vigilant and keep checking their bank statements for suspicious transactions. As the world is moving more towards e-commerce for everything we do, a solution is urgently required.

In South Africa, the e-commerce space is still small. Some people who avoid conducting transactions online lack trust in the internet due to online crimes. Once the online crime challenge is addressed the e-commerce sector will grow in South Africa. To some extent, this challenge is an opportunity for a crime-free browser.

Wesley Diphoko is Editor-In-Chief for The Infonomist and founder of the Kaya Labs. You can follow him on Twitter via: @WesleyDiphoko

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of Independent Media.

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