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Searching for the perfect gift? How to avoid online retail fraud this Valentine’s Day

February 2024 by Hayath Hussein, Chief Operating Officer at Com Laude

As Valentine’s Day quickly approaches, shoppers can get caught up in the rush to get the perfect gift, with little time to do so.

With millions spent on Valentine’s gifts every year, the pressure on consumers and retailers has created the perfect environment for scam websites and fraudsters to exploit unsuspecting shoppers and unprepared retailers. In fact, UK financial fraud is worth £1.2billion due to the levels of people falling foul of scams.

It’s essential for people to know the signs of a trustworthy site so that they can shop safely this peak season. Knowing the difference between a dependable site and a scam could save individuals thousands. Likewise, for retailers navigating an already challenging landscape, they can’t afford to not have control of web domains that protect their business and customers alike.

Beware of Too-Good-to-Be-True Deals
The old adage of “if a deal seems too good to be true, it probably is” may have become cliché but it continues to be the gold standard of avoiding scams.
Scam websites often lure shoppers with incredibly competitive, low prices to entice people into making purchases. Sometimes using terms such as ‘outlet’ or ‘discount store’ to persuade shoppers to their legitimacy. To mitigate this, compare prices across multiple reputable retailers to ensure you’re getting a fair deal and that the price is representative of the competition. Getting a good deal on a scam will only leave you out of pocket in the end.
This is especially important when it comes to luxury goods. With purchasing fraudulent goods being one of the most prominent scams every year it’s clear that fraudsters know what to offer to lure in shoppers. It’s always recommended to go direct to suppliers or to verified retailers of the products, purchasing fraudulent goods is a crime and infringes on intellectual property held by the official brands.

But, how do you know when the online retailer is legitimate?

Check the domain
Before entering any personal or financial information online always check the domain. A trusted brand will protect their online presence and ensure domains are aligned and consistent. A global shopping brand may have a .com and .brand domain, as well as multiple country code domains, to ensure that traffic is correctly channelled and customers find what they’re looking for. However, be aware that not all brands will have all domain options covered, as this can be a significant brand management undertaking and smaller retailers may not do this. Search engines can direct you to convincing scam sites instead of the one you’re hoping to reach, so checking the URL and examining the website for legitimacy is imperative.

It’s also useful to see where the domain is registered, if you know you are purchasing from a British brand to a UK address it’s unlikely that a domain will be registered abroad for example. Check that the country code fits with the locations you know and makes sense against the brand. With the rise in availability of AI tools, creating a convincing scam site is now far easier – often the domain name is the only way to tell if a site is legitimate.

For retailers, not having control over all domains using their name can expose them to significant scams that will not only endanger customers but lead to lost funds. It is their responsibility to monitor if others have registered domains that are significantly similar to their brand, and enforce against misuse of brand names. However, taking down scam sites takes a significant amount of time – as it is difficult to identify owners of websites and legal remediations across borders take months to complete.
Therefore, it is imperative to always check domain names before you buy anything

Stay Informed About Scams
Knowledge is your best defence. By staying informed about the most common online scams and phishing techniques you can be prepared for what to avoid to keep your money and business safe.

It is recommended that everyone should familiarise themselves with the latest scams circulating during the holiday season. For example, text message and email based scams where fraudsters posed as courier services or Royal Mail have been common for a number of years and as they get more sophisticated it’s important that people know not to fall for the ploys. As people become more aware of the tactics, the less they will be at risk.

This Valentine’s Day, don’t let the panic of finding the perfect gift turn into a nightmare of online scams. Instead, fall in love with domain security, stay vigilant, and follow this guidance to have a safe and secure shopping experience.

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