Online Scams: What to Do If Your Purchases Don’t Arrive
Imagine this scenario. You are perusing an online shopping portal when an expensive bag catches your eye. You know for a fact that the bag is a limited edition model and is sold out everywhere in retail shops. Ecstatic with your find, you place an order and eagerly await your package. Unfortunately, after weeks of waiting, the bag does not arrive. You proceed to send the vendor multiple angry emails demanding a refund but your emails are simply ignored.
Challenges You May Encounter
With online shopping becoming increasingly commonplace, it is no surprise if an online shopper has found himself in a similar situation. Typically, a buyer’s first instinct would be to attempt to get a refund from the vendor. However, as a buyer, getting your money back from errant vendors is not without its challenges. Perhaps you might:
- Report the incident to the police, or
- Contemplate bringing a lawsuit against the vendor.
Reporting the incident to the police
Although a course of action buyers often take is to report the incident to the police, it is quite unlikely that the police would be able to help you to recover your money even if a criminal offence is disclosed.
Suing the online vendor
Buyers may also consider suing the online vendor. Strictly speaking, it is technically possible to bring a law suit against the vendor. Under section 11 of the Electronic Transactions Act, a valid contract may be formed through electronic communication. Therefore, if it is a valid contract, a buyer can maintain a legal action against the seller for non-delivery under section 51 of the Sale of Goods Act.
As lawsuits are expensive, bringing a law suit may not be the most practical solution. The costs involved in bringing a lawsuit entails can easily surpass the amount the buyer is trying to recover, especially since it is rare for buyers to purchase very expensive items online.
Aside from costs, other challenges associated with bringing a law suit against an online vendor can include difficulties in obtaining the proper address of the online vendor in order to serve the vendor the relevant court papers.
It should also be noted that even if a buyer falls within the definition of a consumer under section 2 of the Consumer Protection (Fair Trading) Act (CPFTA), the CPFTA (and particularly, its lemon laws) applies more specifically to unfair practices and non-conforming goods rather than the non-delivery of items.
Other Possible Courses of Action a Buyer Could Take
There are nonetheless, other potentially more cost-effective options that a buyer could take to recover his monies.
1. Lodge a complaint with the Consumers Association of Singapore (CASE)
CASE handles complaints related to consumer-to-business disputes. There are several steps CASE may take to help you resolve your dispute, from drafting a letter to the retailer to advising you on available options such as mediation. Fees charged by CASE vary depending on the amount of your claim and whether you are a member of CASE.
2. Lodge a complaint with the relevant online shopping portal
If you have performed your transaction via a shopping portal that hosts multiple vendors, such an online shopping portal may have its own resolution centre where you can lodge a complaint against the relevant vendor listed in their portal and request that the shopping portal assist you in obtaining a refund. For instance, eBay offers a buyer protection programme to resolve disputes between buyers and vendors.
3. Filing a claim with the Small Claims Tribunals (SCT)
The SCT is a quick and inexpensive means of resolving small claims between consumers and suppliers. The SCT hears claims of up to $20,000, or $30,000 of both parties agree to raise the claim limit.
The procedure for filing a SCT claim is fairly straightforward and legal representation is not permitted in SCT proceedings.
Do note that the claim filed has to fall within the jurisdiction of the SCT. For more information, read our other article on how to file a small claim with the SCT.
Ultimately, a buyer should weigh the costs, time and effort of each possible option against the amount he is trying to recover before making a decision.
To prevent such a situation from arising, it is advisable for consumers to do their research before purchasing from an online vendor. Some tips are listed below to make online shopping safer for you:
- Read independent reviews of the online vendor as well as comments from prior customers regarding the quality, authenticity and receipt of delivery of the product in question.
- If it is your first time purchasing from the online vendor, try to avoid purchasing high value items.
- When purchasing costly items online, try as much as possible to conduct such transactions with familiar or reputable online vendors.
- Be careful when giving out credit card and personal details, and use secure payment services.
- Check if the vendor is on an alert list – for instance, CASE has a Company Alert List on its website.
- Do your research on the product as well as price to avoid scams and over-paying for an item.
- Check the National Crime Prevention Council (NCPC) Scam Alert website to learn more about the various types of online purchase scams and the modus operandi of the scammers.
- If you made the purchase via the Carousell online marketplace app, contact the Carousell support team for assistance. You can read more in our article on the what to do if you’ve fallen victim to a Carousell scam in Singapore.
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