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Oghenovo Egodo-Michael writes about customers who were victims of cunning online vendors
An online shopper, Davina Afara, couldn’t hide her disappointment when she saw the mess that a clothier made of the clothing that was supposed to be her wedding dress. Afara said she sourced a tailor online after the ones she knew offline could not assure her of sewing her wedding dress the way she wanted it.
She noted that the online clothier played a huge role in the cancellation of her white wedding after ruining the wedding dress.
She said, “It was supposed to be my wedding dress and the tailors I physically went to couldn’t assure me that they could sew my preferred style. They were only saying that they would do their best; they did not assure me that they would do the work well and to my taste. I did not like such an assurance because I wouldn’t be able to hold them accountable if things go wrong. So, I met this tailor on Instagram and her IG page was so marvellous. I was amazed. I showed her pictures to describe what I wanted only for her to deliver something funny.”
Afara noted that the dress she received was not what she requested, noting that the development marred her hopes of getting a perfect white wedding.
She said, “She made the clothes late and did not deliver on time as promised. I was always sending her text messages to know if it was ready. I paid N10, 000 for consultation before she could take my measurement. For the dress, I paid a lot of money as it was not a common dress. She was so far away and I journeyed from Ikeja to FESTAC where she was so that everything would be okay. I saw the dress and it was so terrible. It was like she measured someone else.’’
She said that she was so angry that she demanded a refund and ensured that the ceremony happened in the court.
Afara noted that the incident was not the only time she received a substandard or bad product from an online vendor. Consequently, she added that she decided that there were certain items she would not order online.
Another customer of an online vendor, Olufemi Ayeni, said he decided to give himself a valentine treat in February 2019. But things turned sour when he realised that the shoe he ordered to appreciate himself wasn’t worth the price he paid. He said, “It was during the valentine in 2019 and I was looking to get myself something for the season. So, I came across a shoe that I like and I thought to get it for myself.”
Ayeni noted that it was his first time buying something for himself online. He came across an online page for shoes on Twitter. He said, ‘I saw an online vendor who pinned a message on her Twitter page, ‘Hello Twitter. Pls help me raise money for my masters. I sell the cheapest, original shoes on this app.’ She said all the shoes on her page were handmade and after checking them out, I was really impressed. I got a picture of one I wanted online and sent her all the necessary information that she needed including the full payment for the item and the delivery.’’
The construction worker noted that he got the shock of his life when the shoe arrived. According to him, the shoe was so poorly made that he instructed the dispatch rider to return it.
He said, “When the item came and I opened it, I exclaimed. I just told the dispatch rider to wait, took the shoe out of the bag and snapped a picture, gave it back to the guy and told him that it was not mine.’’
Olufemi said that he later realised that it was a common habit of the vendor when other victims shared their stories of how she did the same to them and later changed her business name afterwards.
He said, “I wanted to report the matter to the police but I considered the effort it would take me to get a refund. When I sensed that the stress would be more than the money, I aborted the mission. After that, many people messaged me claiming that she had done the same thing to them.”
Another victim and journalist, Mr Bamidele Johnson, told Saturday PUNCH that he saw a Facebook page advertising shirts for sale in mid-2019.
Bamidele narrated that he then placed an order for a pair but found himself in a difficult position after calling and texting the seller to no avail. He added that he neither received his item nor his money even when the seller assured him that refunds were welcome if he is not pleased with the delivery.
He said, “Mid-2019, a page on Facebook advertised shirts for sale. A phone number was displayed there and the request was that interested persons could reach the retailer by WhatsApp. I did and was told that each shirt costs N 17, 000. I asked what if I did not like the fabric and he said that my money would be refunded if I am not pleased with the shirt.”
Bamidele noted that after the encounter, it took him a long time to trust an online vendor and that when he did; transactions had to be paid on delivery. He stated, “Nothing came at the end of the day and he later blocked me on WhatsApp. I called the number with another number, but once he heard it was me, he ended the call. I made a Facebook post to call the attention of those in my orbit to the fact that the page ran a fraudulent scheme. It took a long time for me to trust an online vendor and it had to be payment on delivery.”
More dubious online deliveries
A human hair retailer, Oluwagbemisola Dada, also narrated her experience regarding the purchase of a human hair from an online vendor outside the country in 2020 which she intended to resell.
The human hair entrepreneur stated that she had been a victim of online vendors thrice despite sharing her preferred human hair and sending pictures and videos of the favoured items to the vendors for clarity.
She said, “In the hair business, there could be an umbrella name for certain kinds of hair with different quality or grade. I really wanted to get good quality bone straight hair and when my order arrived in Nigeria, it was not bone straight hair. I fell victim to this on three occasions to different suppliers. I ordered from the factory online because that was the only way as they are not Nigerian companies.”
Stating that she could not sell the items at a good price for they were of inferior quality, Dada noted that she had to rename the hairs and sell them at a cheaper rate after crying her eyes out because her expectations were not met.
She said, “On two occasions, I bought from China but they were not up to standard and then I bought from Vietnam and it was still not of good quality. Because of that, I could not sell it for high prices so I had to rename it. I cried because my expectations were high and I could have avoided being in the situation if not for lack of knowledge.”
Dada explained that what was more disturbing was the fact that the supplier kept on reassuring her that the items that she would receive were exactly what she wanted. She added that she paid an extra fee for the hair because of the fluctuating exchange rate at the time.
The lady said she took solace in the fact that it was an experience for her. She stated, “After then, I still bought hairs from China but not bone straight hairs. Also, the bone straight hair is not affordable for everyone so I buy different kinds. The situation helped me learn through experience and to understand the different types of bone straight hairs.”
A student at the River State University, Gloria Osigwe, was also a victim of absurd acts of some online vendors. Osigwe noted that she first met the vendor when he visited her hostel to advertise his goods.
The undergraduate noted that she halted her weight loss journey at the time to order food from the vendor online. Osigwe said, “I have known the vendor since I entered the university. The first time I heard about the vendor was when he made an announcement in my hostel at Rivers State University so I got his number. One day, I was really hungry and I did not plan to eat that night because I was on a diet. I then viewed his status and I saw a post of an attractive plantain. I was so attracted to the food that I forgot about my weight loss journey at that moment. I then called a number on the flier and ordered food.”
She added that she felt like crying when her order arrived at her doorstep. She said, “When it came, I was really disappointed. First, the vendor told me it was going to be on a plate but it was in foil. I quickly placed a call to the vendor and he said that when he said it would come in a plate, he meant in a foil plate.
“When I opened the plantain, it was terrible; it was burnt. It was so bad that the sauce in the plantain also had a burnt taste. I felt so bad and when I called again, he said that he did not know that was going to happen as plantain is expensive in the market. He said he would make it up to me the next day and till today, he did not.”
Despite the disappointment, the undergraduate said that she still ordered another food from the vendor on another day. She said, “I could not even eat it. I however still ordered akara (bean cake) and bread from the vendor after the incident. When it happened, I felt like crying because I could have used the money to buy something else even if it was bread, fruit or a snack to hold myself till the next day. I ended up sleeping hungry. I used to think the situation of poor deliveries was a joke until it happened to me.”
Global online shopping scams
Statistics from Germany-based market and consumer data firm showed that transactions to online shopping scammers were on the rise worldwide. EconomicTimes also reported that the number of online shoppers who suffered losses after being deceived by online scammers grew at COVID-19 onset. But the percentage of online shopping scam victims losing money was down to 74 per cent globally, from 78 percent in 2020.
Commenting on the issue, a cyber security technology innovations expert, and founder, Cyberlab Inc, Yomi Olalere, noted that consumers and vendors were connected more than ever.
He said, “Electronic commerce has succeeded in taking over from where traditional commerce had largely failed. With this neutrality, buyers can be located anywhere and order products from everywhere with a single click, over the digital space.’’
Olalere noted further that with the accompanying benefits of shopping online come certain inherent risks associated with vulnerability and exposure. He also stated that users were outplayed by different kinds of pranks from dangerously “clever” cyber criminals.
He added that users of online platforms should be protected users while on digital outlets over the functionality of the product sites.
Stating that even with the best implementation of relevant security features, there were human errors that could naturally expose critical security flaws, he opined that for a great online shopping experience, certain things must be duly noted.
He noted that users must look before they leap, check the validity of the site or store they shop from before committing their personal information.
He added, “If you are unsure of the web address, do a simple opinion search on Google to check what others are saying about the site or store.”
He stated that online buyers should know when to run from a perceived scam, saying “If the site is sending information in plain text, then it is time to run. Beware of sites with compromised security certificates.’’ He added that though password policy was traditional, it was still a relevant go-to preventive control.
Stating that people should adopt modern and innovative solutions to protect their digital presence, he said, “A new technology in cybersecurity has been invented by a US-based firm and received a patent by the United States Patent Office. This novel innovation will help digital users to monitor the security status of the online outlets, exposure risks, shoppers’ vulnerabilities, including any compromised passwords, risk valuation of affiliated or connected companies which could affect user’s personal and financial data as well as leaked social media accounts.”
Another technology expert, Joel Prune, noted that an effective way to tackle e-commerce scams was by introducing the use of an escrow service to make payments while purchasing online.
Online sources describe escrow payment as a contractual arrangement in which a third party receives and disburses money, property, documents or items for the primary transacting parties.
Speaking on this, Prune stated, “I think that creating an Escrow service will basically fix it. An escrow service involves an independent third party called an escrow agent who holds assets of value in trust until the specified conditions of the contract are met; refers to a neutral third party holding assets or funds before they are transferred from one party in a transaction to another. The third party holds the funds until both buyer and seller have fulfilled their contractual requirements. For instance, if I buy something from an online platform, they could hold on to the money till they confirm that I got what I ordered before they pay the supplier. So, the online store is guaranteeing me supply in that case and customer’s protection.”
The expert also said that another way to go about it was by using direct debits. He said, “We can also go about the situation using direct debits which means that if I pay you for a service and you do not deliver, I am able to debit you back for what I paid for.”
In his contribution, a techpreneur, Chukwuemeka Afigbo, stated that in terms of policies, there should be an increased partnership between customer regulation agencies and fintech players to curb the act.
He said, “The first and most important has to do with increased collaboration between the regulating agencies and fintech players. I believe that these two parties share the same ultimate goal which is a secure financial environment that will enable Nigeria and Nigerians prosper. However, sometimes when I see the changes in regulation as well as the reaction of the ecosystem to the changes, it appears that the two parties are not reading from the same script. The left hand does not know what the right hand is doing and vice versa. I would love to see more collaboration and partnership that will bring peace of mind to regulators, entrepreneurs, investors and bankers alike and enable innovation in a secure way. To summarise, I will say more collaboration between all the stakeholders is needed at this point.”
Offering options on ways to combat and trace electronic fraud, Afigbo stated, “Without a proper identity system, it is tough to tackle fraud. In the United States, the nationally accepted Social Security Number, while not infallible, goes a long way in helping prevent or trace fraud. Today in Nigeria, I am not sure we have one universally adopted and easily verifiable secure identity system. Between the BVN, NIN and SIM card registration data, it is unclear which one is the national standard. Until Nigeria finds a way to make these systems work, it will make fraud investigation and prevention harder than it should be. Again this is another area where collaboration between the regulators and the rest of the tech stakeholders should yield some positive results.”
He added that another way was to democratise access to education on security and fraud prevention so that everyone in the tech value chain including people who work in the smallest startups have the basic principles at their fingertips.
The expert said, “I am not sure how much this is included in the curriculum for developers and product managers in the region. Even in the United States, many developers and product managers do not have this knowledge and so it is a global challenge.”
In his contribution to the issue, a lawyer, Timothy Adewale, noted that if an online vendor delivered an item that did not match what was ordered for by a consumer, it was tantamount to obtaining money through false pretence.
Adewale said, “If what I ordered is not delivered to me, I have a right to return it and have my money returned to me. If I ordered a bicycle online and what is delivered to me does not fit the description and specification of the item I saw online, then that is not what I ordered for.
“If I ordered an item and opened it to check and it does not match what I ordered, you cannot say I cannot return it because I have opened it as there is no way to check some items without opening it. If the item has been used, it is another situation entirely. If from the outset a vendor does not have any intention of sending what is displayed to the consumer, then it is called obtaining money through false pretence and that is fraudulent. That is a crime and is punishable under the law. The intention of the seller from the beginning determines if it is criminal or contractual.”
Saying there were more than enough laws to curb such a situation, Adewale stated that the Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission was doing a good job regarding customer protection.
He added, “They are prompt to act and that is one avenue that a complaint can be made. We have lots of laws to prevent the situation. In fact, there are laws against fraud in the first place. People need to be careful especially when buying health products. Buyers need to always beware because online orders always have their risks too.”
Another lawyer and Chairman, Nigerian Bar Association Section on Public Interest and Development Law, Nigerian Bar Association, Monday Ubani, encouraged online buyers to embrace the system of payment on delivery to reduce being scammed by online vendors. He stated that problems such as this were hard to solve by the police because of inadequate tracking technology and devices.
He said, “That is obtained by false pretence but I advise buyers online to embrace the arrangement of pay on delivery because many people online use their phones to steal as it is one of the easiest ways to make money online. If you pay money online to someone you do not know or cannot identify, you run into problems because they also need to deal with someone they can see and most times these sellers are not traceable with some of them even changing their phones. Also, the person can be anywhere in the world. If you are keen on totally avoiding the situation, you can buy on site. There is nothing that does not have risks so everyone must look at the system that will suit him.’’
Ubani stated that there were laws controlling such situations, noting that the first step would be to trace the person and some police would say that they didn’t have the technology to trace the suspect.
He said, “My advice is for everyone shopping online to be careful because our system has not developed to the point where we can establish a high level of fairness, honesty and integrity. The environment is not conducive because everyone is a potential criminal. The same goes for online relationships.”
Efforts to get the comment of the Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission on the issue were futile.
Contacted, the commission’s Head of Public Relations, Ondaje Ijagwu, stated that he couldn’t speak on the matter, adding that the commission’s Chief Executive Officer, Mr Babatunde Irukera, was not available to make comments.
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