To Buy or Not to Buy: Online Shopping in the Age of Nigerian Princes

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September 17, 2013

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So you’ve found your fantasy smart phone on sale online, at a price that will let you get it two months earlier than planned. Even as you envision impressing your nerdy-tech colleagues with your new Galaxy Lumia Expensive, you find yourself hesitant to commit to an online purchase: you’ve heard horror stories of online conmen. How do you keep from becoming a fraud statistic?

From goods being delivered in a sorry state of disrepair to simply never hearing from the seller again after making payment, online transactions offer a fertile hunting ground for predatory scammers that put our good old “Nigerian Prince” practitioners to shame.

In spite of the risks involved, online trade continues to grow, fuelled by three key factors:  a variety of goods difficult to access by visiting physical shops, convenience of purchase and competitive pricing. With vendors having low to zero cost options like Google Trader or business pages on social media, they can afford to undercut mainstream prices while maintaining healthy profit margins.

With purchasing goods from the comfort of your home set to become an integral part of modern life, we must ask one important question: “how do I pay?”

The first cluster of payment methods available can be referred to as “buffer-free” payments, meaning they provide consumers little to no protection from fraud. Included in this lot is the trust-based advance payment system, where buyers make full or partial payments for goods and hope for delivery of goods.

Aside from the obvious potential for swindling, advance payments made using credit cards or direct debits expose buyer account information, opening the door for future fraud-related misery.

Assuming you don’t wish to risk a five figure sum in this manner, there is the largely more secure route of payment “middlemen”. Here, the buyer submits their credit or debit card information to the payment facilitator, who then verifies the authenticity of the information and facilitates the funds transfer, protecting both parties confidential information.

Similar to these are “virtual wallets” such as the now ubiquitous PayPal which allows users to set up an account separate from their personal bank accounts that is used to safely send and receive payments. These also offer the added convenience of speed and ease in transaction.

Still not convinced? Understandable. You’ve spent months putting together the finances; the idea of handing it over to a faceless entity online should unsettle you.  Lucky for you, there exists a third option: cash on delivery.

This method simply requires that a potential buyer place an order for their desired purchase, providing information on a convenient delivery location. In this way you can confirm your purchase in person, examining it to ensure it is in the required condition, before any cash changes hands.

With payment options available for even the most cynical of us, online shopping can only grow in leaps and bounds as the world makes the transition to digital life, starting with your brand new smartphone, so go ahead and click “buy”.


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