Walang manloloko kung walang magpapaloko — but let us not discount the fact that even the most educated people and the cynics also fall victim to fraud and scams.
Maybe the technical skills and social engineering tactics of these scammers have really gone sophisticated (AI-powered na din ba?), or maybe, we still need more bricks to heighten our security firewalls, but for sure, the internet remains an unimaginably vast source of information for our awareness.
In fact, it’s only a few clicks away to check whether a website or an online shop is legitimate or not. But we rarely do it. We get curious and do the search only when we already fall victim to online shopping scams. Still, we shouldn’t put the blame on anybody else but the bad guys.
Some of the most common online shopping scams in the Philippines include wrong or non-delivery of paid items, outrageous discounts, bogus websites and social media pages, faux online shops mimicking trusted platforms and retailers, and fake shipping alerts.
Recently, there have been reported cases of tasks-based digital marketing schemes claimed as affiliated with major e-commerce platforms that wiped out tens to hundreds of thousands of pesos from the victims’ pockets.
20 Ways to Protect Yourself from Online Shopping Scams in the Philippines
In a continuously expanding digital world where everything happens instantaneously, we shouldn’t get caught off guard by these scammers and fraudsters.
Thus, it is always proactive to be aware of their modi operandi and the measures to protect ourselves before we tumble into difficult situations, fall prey, and lose our hard-earned money. I hope the list and discussion below will help.
 Access the online shop directly from its official app or website and not through social media or ad links. It’s given that these days most of the social media links to major e-commerce platforms such as Lazada and Shopee are legitimate affiliate links in which sharers and marketers earn a referral commission from every purchase.
However, phishing links also lead to fake and faux sites that can be mistaken as official ones. It’s almost the same as with banks, where targets are deceived to feed their sensitive information to these fake websites through email or SMS links.
To ditch your suspicions and stay confident about your online purchases and transactions, avoid clicking these links and check the products directly on the official app or website. That is if you’re really interested in them.
 Don’t bite the clickbaits. Whether it’s sent via email, SMS, or pop-up ads and however sensational, encouraging, and exciting the promotion is, if it’s unsolicited or you’re not subscribed to it in the first place, be suspicious and don’t click on it.
As Merriam-Webster defines, clickbait is something (such as a headline) designed to make readers want to click on a hyperlink, especially when the link leads to content of dubious value or interest.
It promises compelling information or irresistible offers, but you have yet to learn where it leads, maybe to a malicious website, and you don’t want to get totally hooked, phished, and scammed.
 Be skeptical of outrageous discounts and promotions. Yes, they may be a real jackpot. They may be just clickbaits. Or, they may also be scams.
When you shop online or at physical stores, you always want value for your hard-earned money. You don’t settle for something defective or substandard. And most of the time, you won’t find this value in outrageously cheap products.
If you’re skeptical of the shocking 95% discount or so, try to check it and see if it’s true, but don’t get hooked. Make price comparisons with other retailers and figure out the real deal.
 Avoid using public Wi-Fi when shopping online. Public Wi-Fi users are at risk from hackers. The biggest threat to security is their ability to position between you and the connection point. So, instead of communicating directly with the hotspot, you send your information to these hackers, who then relay it.
They may gain access to your sensitive information, such as credit card and e-wallet information, email accounts, and security credentials. Hackers may also plant infected software or malware on your device.
 Always do the ‘legit website check’ if you’re trying to access the online shop via a browser. If you’re searching for a legit shop on Google, it usually appears on top of all search results, given its popularity and verifiability.
When clicked, you’re led to a landing page or homepage that displays its domain on the address bar, for example, Lazada Philippines at www.lazada.com.ph and Shopee at www.shopee.ph. At the same time, it must be running on HTTPS.
HTTPS means Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure, which lets you know that all your communication and data, e.g., credit card numbers, etc., are encrypted as they pass from your browser to the website’s server.
However, Google emphasizes that you should not rely on this alone as almost all websites these days, even the phishing and bogus sites run on HTTPS, even displaying the green lock icon.
Equally, check if domains contain special characters such as hyphens and numbers and transposed characters, which are typical of untrusted websites. Browse the pages and see if there are suspicious elements and details. You should know if something feels off.
 When shopping on e-commerce platforms, such as Lazada and Shopee, where there are thousands of sellers, always check the store details and product reviews. Refrain from relying on product images and descriptions as they may have been just grabbed or copied by the sellers somewhere else, maybe from official and flagship stores.
Names of shops, as we expect, tell us about the branding, but if these are just random combinations of letters and numbers, e.g., jgfhs, khsjdhje123, etc., then there is something fishy. These shops might have been instantly created without serious business intentions. They may be fly-by-night shops. Better avoid them.
Store and product reviews also tell us a lot about the customers’ experience and satisfaction, but some sellers employ dirty tactics and add fake reviews to their product listings to deceive buyers.
You might have encountered a series of long positive reviews in straight, formal, and grammatical English with nearly realistic photos. These are too good to be true because most local shoppers would review products in the local language, i.e., Filipino, or if ever in English, may not that be too formal. These reviews may be machine-generated.
Product prices may even be outrageously lower or higher than the ballpark prices of the same products on the platform. Note that the sellers always have control over the prices, discounts, and store-level promos.
Check also other details such as the age of the store, seller ratings, number of followers, and if most of the products belong to the same category and are not just randomly listed for sale.
 Check if the online shop is authorized to resell branded products. Although e-commerce platforms, Lazada in particular, have strict policies regarding reselling branded and signature products which are typically subject to validation of legal papers, there are still many online shops that break the rules.
Most of us, online shoppers, do not notice the ‘no brand’ labels on the product listings. That’s their strategy. Although this is not usually a big deal, especially for cheaper products, quality assurance and warranties may not be fully offered for high-end products such as gadgets and appliances when bought from these unauthorized resellers.
As a wise online shopper, you should also know the different types of sellers and shops on the platform or the technical labels such as flagship stores, LazMall shops, ShopeeMall shops, preferred sellers, and micro sellers.
 Make all your transactions — payments, delivery arrangements, refunds, and returns — just within the platform. Sellers usually get penalized if caught transacting with clients outside the platforms. So, legitimate sellers shouldn’t ask you to pay directly to their GCash or bank accounts or promise to expedite the delivery through self-arranged courier services.
Lazada and Shopee, for example, have these standard operating procedures and policies that sellers know very well. If you transact outside the platform, you won’t be protected against online shopping scams or cannot make claims when worse comes to worst. That is, of course, different if you’re shopping on social media marketplaces.
In other cases, sellers negotiate under the table with buyers for refunds and returns to avoid the platform penalties and negative reviews. This is entirely against the policies, but you decide whether this will conveniently solve your issue without compromising your safety and security.
 If you want to purchase from a less popular online shop, search first for reviews and testimonials. You might have been hooked on buying a product from an online shop you haven’t heard about before. You’ve got no idea about its reliability and legitimacy.
While you may jump directly into doing the domain and store details check, you are also strongly advised to search for reviews and testimonials first. You may go through social media and forums where people usually share their good and bad experiences.
In doing the search, try to include keywords such as ‘scam,’ ‘complaint,’ ‘issues,’ ‘reviews,’ and others related. You should take even a single search result that says it’s a scam as a bloody red flag.
 Stay away from tasks-based digital marketing schemes claimed as affiliated with e-commerce platforms. With these new online shopping scams, prospects are lured to make money top-ups, buy items from big e-commerce sites such as eBay, Amazon, Lazada, and Shopee, and enjoy multiplying or compounding commissions through a series of tasks in increasing levels and top-up requirements.
The earned commission is put on hold in the account until new tasks are completed, making victims fall into the trap of compulsive and continuous top-ups, hoping to withdraw the hefty commission or even just the capital very soon. Scammers also use social engineering tactics or psychological manipulation to inveigle the victims to continue with the tasks.
Based on the experiences and stories shared by the victims in the comment section of another article, these online shopping scams cost them tens to hundreds of thousands of pesos before they realized they were dragged down into a bottomless pit of financial losses.
If you’ve been invited to join these schemes through social media links or unsolicited messages, research them seriously and understand the easy-money business model and the risks first. Or better yet, avoid them.
 Use the payment mode that gives you the most security and peace of mind. You may pay your orders cash on delivery (COD), with an e-wallet, or a credit card. You decide which one gives you the most security and peace of mind. A debit card attached to a savings account should be your last option among the usual payment modes.
As PNP Anti-Cybercrime Group suggests, pay with your credit card. Liability for fraudulent charges on credit cards is generally limited to $50, and some providers offer 100 percent purchase protection. Paying with a debit card does not provide such safeguards.
 Use the e-card that comes with your principal credit card. Major banks and credit card issuers in the country usually provide companion e-cards that can be used exclusively for online shopping and other transactions.
These e-cards offer an end-to-end online shopping experience with a controlled or sometimes adjustable credit limit and with different card numbers from the principal card, thus offering an extra layer of security.
BDO Virtual Card, BPI eCredit Card, Metrobank ON Virtual Mastercard, and RCBC Credit Card web shopper — are a few examples of these e-cards.
 Avail credit card purchase protection insurance, especially if you’re an online shopaholic. Purchase protection insurance covers fraud, loss, theft, and accidental damage of purchased items paid with credit cards. This entitles the insured cardholder to claims, reimbursements, and demands for replacements should unwanted things happen with the purchases.
Check the website of your credit card provider to see if they offer this type of insurance and if you’re willing to make additional payments for this on top of your bill, i.e., if it’s not originally part of the credit card program. Make sure also to read the terms and conditions.
With BDO Visa Platinum, for example, you are covered for possible losses up to $200 per claim per annum for instances such as non-delivery of the purchased item after 30 days of the scheduled delivery, wrong or incomplete delivery, and physical damage.
 Lock your credit card from your mobile app when misplaced or lost, or if you think the security has been compromised. Whether you misplace your credit card or you believe the security has been compromised upon trying to make a purchase on a suspicious online shop, you may find instant relief by logging in to your banking app and locking the card.
Most banks and credit card issuers have adopted this feature on their mobile apps. New charges and cash advances will be denied when you lock a card.
You might also be informed through SMS about the attempts, which will give you an idea of whether it’s really compromised and if you need further actions like contacting your card provider for a card replacement. If it’s just a false alarm, you can unlock the card anytime and use it.
 Read the shipping, return, refund, and privacy policies carefully. The Filipino adage goes, ‘Lamang ang may alam.’ As an empowered consumer, you should make it a habit to know your rights and responsibilities. You should read and understand the terms, conditions, and policies, especially if you’re new to the online shop or e-commerce platform.
You may not be expecting any bad experience, but if it happens, you will have a sharp mind to make informed decisions and do the right thing instead of having a panic attack.
 When receiving a parcel, always check for something suspicious. You might have been used to receiving parcels and knowing if something is fishy. Keep on doing it.
See if the dimensions and weight of the parcel match your expectations. Of course, a big appliance cannot just be shipped in an ordinary pouch. Check also if there are tamperings on the waybill and on the flap of the pouch. Feel the product inside or the box if it is still intact and free from any damage.
If you sense something wrong with it, politely request the courier to stay for a while as you open the parcel. Remember that the courier is just the courier, and you cannot force or demand him to take the parcel back and refund your payment.
Take photos and a video of you while opening the parcel before the courier. If your suspicion is correct, coordinate with the courier if there is an instant action on their end or seek advice. He must have an idea of how such an issue is resolved.
 Find the right channel for the resolution of the issues. In most cases, the courier can’t directly help you, so do posting and ranting about it on social media. Yes, you may earn the sympathy of your friends and followers, but you’re not a celebrity that a platform representative will get in touch with you.
Find the right channel. Contact the seller on the platform, send your proofs, and demand a payment refund. It might also be that you missed checking on the product details that it is really just a miniature or in a different model and design. Figure it out first.
However, if you’re really scammed, and it’s not resolved with the seller, then you escalate the issue to the platform’s help center. You have your proofs and a witness, so you can always make a rightful demand. If resolved, monitor the crediting of the refund to your account or credit card.
If needed, seek further help from government authorities, such as DTI or PNP Anti-Cybercrime Group. You may check this article – How to Report Scams in the Philippines — for hotlines and contact details.
 If you’re transacting with an independent seller, for example, on Facebook Marketplace, arrange for a meetup. It may counter the purpose or convenience if you’re trying to shop online, yet you still need to meet with the seller. For small and inexpensive items, there may be no need for this. After all, courier services allow COD arrangements.
However, if we’re talking about items that cost tens of thousands of pesos, such as tech gadgets or luxury products, you cannot just rely on the seller reviews on social media or the assurance given over chat or SMS. Remember that scammers usually employ social engineering tactics in their communications. You can only really tell how truthful the person is once proven.
 Keep your gadgets protected from malware. Clicking links or attachments in phishing emails, social media messages, and text messages from unverified sources may result in malware and viruses downloaded to your gadgets.
As McAfee describes, common warning signs of malware include excessive heat generated by the device, crashing apps, increased random pop-ups and new apps, fraudulent links to accounts, and unauthorized charges to accounts managed through the device.
Hackers may use malware to harvest your personal information and credit card details. To prevent further damage, install security features, delete malicious apps, and take time to clean up your device.
 Share your online shopping scam experience below to raise awareness and warn others. Let’s share. Sharing is caring, ika nga. But never ever share your sensitive information.
While many, those who simply seek awareness and those who might have fallen victim to online shopping scams already, might be able to read this article, I encourage you to share your insights, experiences, and pieces of advice in the comment section below so to warn others and prevent the proliferation of these cybercrimes.
Let us keep our online shopping safe and worry-free.
10 Reasons Many Filipinos Still Fall Prey to Scams and Fraud. This article provides 10 common reasons why many Filipinos still get scammed amidst all campaigns and joint efforts of the government authorities and the public, including widespread easy-money schemes, impulsive decision-making, and a culture of sharing almost everything online.
6 Common Credit Card Scams in the Philippines [Facebook Stories].This article lists and describes six of the most common credit card scams in the Philippines today based on stories and experiences shared on social media.
How to Report Scams in the Philippines. This article emphasizes the gravity and need to report scams and fraud to the authorities and further provides hotlines and contact details of various government agencies such as the NBI, PNP, Insurance Commission, and Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), among others.
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