29 September 2021

On 2 September 2021, the Competition and Consumer Commission of Singapore (“CCCS”) and the Consumers Association of Singapore (“CASE”) made available a consumer advisory (“advisory”) on the CCCS website www.cccs.gov.sg, including an infographic titled “Be vigilant when shopping online”, to alert consumers to common tactics used by errant online retailers to mislead consumers into purchasing products. The advisory also recommends that consumers adopt certain precautions to minimise the risk of falling prey to some of these tactics.

The advisory follows 52 complaints received by CASE from January 2020 to 2 August 2021 related to transactions with overseas online retailers where consumers were misled into making purchases. As these online retailers may not have any presence in Singapore, it is challenging to successfully seek a refund for money paid. It is noted in the advisory that online shopping has become more prevalent amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

Commonly used online tactics

The advisory sets out the following common examples of the kinds of tactics used by errant online retailers:

  • Providing false or misleading information, such as a URL which contains the abbreviation “sg”, to give the impression that the retailer’s business has a physical presence in Singapore, or is based in Singapore when it is not true. 
  • Making false or misleading claims about the product sold, such as the brand, quality, country of origin or accreditation/awards received, but the product eventually delivered may turn out to be different.
  • Offering seemingly large discounts citing reasons such as warehouse clearance or closing down sales, when the discounts may not be genuine.
  • Giving false contact information for consumer refunds and redress by giving fictitious contact information (e.g. hotlines or email addresses).

Advice to consumers

The advisory also provides consumers with suggestions on precautions to adopt when shopping online - before making a purchase, when making a purchase and receiving the goods.

Before making a purchase, the advisory recommends consumers look out for inconsistent or questionable claims about the retailer’s business premises, research claims made by the retailer about accreditation/awards received by the product sold and check whether any claims made by the retailer about itself or its product can be separately verified. Consumers are also advised to check and understand the terms and conditions, and return/refund policy listed on the retailer’s website or advertisement.

Consumers are advised to make purchases through e-commerce websites that are verified, safe and secure. For example, a padlock symbol in the address bar indicates that the connection is encrypted to ensure that information transmitted to the website, such as credit card details, will be secure. Where available, the advisory recommends consumers consider using escrow payment arrangements when making purchases with e-commerce sites.

When receiving goods, consumers are advised to check the products as soon as they are delivered. If the products do not match the description given by the retailer, consumers should reject the products and decline to make payment. The advisory provides further guidance on what to do if payment was made via credit card.

Reference materials

The following materials are available on the CCCS website www.cccs.gov.sg: