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E-commerce and Consumer Safety

E-commerce and Consumer Safety

E-commerce and Consumer Safety 
Just a Little Care and Discipline Are Needed

E-commerce (e-com) has become all-pervasive and our day-to-day lives are fully governed by e- transactions – be it simple SMS alerts of our banking transactions, our online banking transactions, Internet-based ticket bookings, or e-shopping. Thankfully, there is absolutely no need to be scared of e-com; use it to your heart’s content as long as you follow a few basic precautions.

Hemant Upadhyay

E-com is growing at a phenomenal pace due to its convenience and cost optimization – so much so that today more than 50 per cent airline bookings are done online. Yet, as with every other convenience, growing popularity has also brought along safety/security issues. Complaints like non-delivery of goods/services, poor quality and payment frauds are being received in ever-increasing numbers.
E-com can be broadly categorized into three verticals:

  • Banking: money transfers, online bill payments, etc.
  • Stocks/Commodity trading
  • E-commerce: Online buying, selling, etc., which can be further sub-divided into:

Online store of goods/services like IRCTC, homeshop18, indiatimes 
Online auctions/bidding sites like auctions.snapbid.in, dealite.in
Online marketplace for buyers and sellers like Rediff shopping, tradus.com 
Online consolidators/facilitators of goods/services like makemytrip, junglee.com
The banking and online payment sites normally involve only one entity for transactions and follow strict due diligence in securing their sites and transactions carried out on their sites. From the consumer’s perspective, these sites are relatively secure/protected and a minimum of discipline on the part of consumers will protect his interest.
Stocks/Commodity trading sites involve three entities: namely the stock exchange/broker, the stockholding company, and the bank. These transactions are called close-ended. All these entities also take due care to protect their sites and transactions, and since all three entities are simultaneously involved (real-time transactions), transactions are tallied instantly and the risk to consumer is minimized. Hence, no consumer issues related to the e-commerce aspect are reported in this domain. 
It’s a somewhat different ballgame for the commonly understood e-com sites (sites engaged in buying/selling/auction of goods or services). These are relatively unsecure and happen to be the biggest source of consumer concerns. 
The range of consumer complaints includes: 

  • Payment made but not received by the site
  • Product/service not delivered in time or not delivered at all
  • Product/service not as per order
  • No or bad after-sales support
  • No physical address on site/no other registration details like sales tax 
  • Traceability of site promoters/company or seller, or both, is not possible or rather purposefully blocked

To mitigate risks and to make e-commerce the happy experience it is designed to be, only a few precautions and basic discipline are needed.

STEP 1: Preliminary verification

  • In case of banks/brokerages, visit sites specified by them in writing in their literature; enter the URL (specific site address) directly rather than clicking on a pre-existing site address.
  • Genuineness of the site: Check for registration, details of site owner, registered address, sales tax registration, terms of use, contact person’s name, verification details (like trusted root certificate), etc.
  • Try to find some actual users in your circle of acquaintances and discuss their experience.
  • Try and study reviews published in various print/online magazines.

Step 2: During usage

  • Always type out the site address as specified by the bank/brokerage/shopping site.
  • As far as possible, never click on the site address received by other means/promotional emails/SMS.
  • Never save username and password on your computer/mobile; never share them with anybody including any calls received from the sites themselves.
  • Ensure that for every bank/credit card transaction you receive an SMS and an email alert by registering your mobile number as well as email with the bank/brokerage.
  • Register your email also for transaction alert as mobile number can be out of service once in a while and fraudsters are known to have used this loophole to their advantage.
  • Keep record of all your transactions at these sites and destroy them only after confirming all transactions including receipt of goods or services ordered.
  • Wherever possible, use virtual keyboard.
  • Avoid using public computers/cyber cafes for carrying out such transactions.
  • When in doubt, abort

Step3: After completion of transaction

  •  Close all the windows after the transaction is complete. 
  • Preferably close the browser as well; restart the browser if needed.
  • Cross-check the transaction 

with your records
with the receiver in case of money transfer 
with your demat a/c, brokerage, bank for share transactions
with SMS/email for bank transactions
with SMS/email received for payments made for e-shopping from bank as well as e-shopping site
with physical receipt of goods/services ordered for e-shopping

  • Check the goods/services received against your order for quantity/quality and delivery date, or completion of the intended transaction.
  • In case you are not satisfied with any of the above, lodge a complaint with the e-commerce site/bank/brokerage, etc., as the case may be, giving all the details.
  • Keep record of all the facts related to the transaction till the transaction is complete to your satisfaction or the warranty period is valid, whichever is later.

Please do not be scared of online transactions. Just be alert, careful and disciplined. E-commerce is meant to be consumer-friendly and most convenient. So, let us make it so.

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