How to avoid being scammed during online shopping - Wendy Knowler

How to avoid being scammed during online shopping - Wendy Knowler

Shopping online? Check before you click...

Online shopping

Shopping on the world wide web is very dangerous business, more dangerous than many realise. Too many get caught in the web because they’re too trusting of a good looking website or a great price.

Pat Pontack of Cape Town contacted me last week to say she’d lost more than R20,000 to a Durban-based company called Big O Trading, cc. She wanted to buy a Thermomix TM6, a do-it-all wonder kitchen appliance that does slow-cooking, food processing, steaming, mixing, and more.

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She Googled Thermomix and Big O Trading, which gives a Windermere Road address which matches Windermere Centre, popped up.
The invoice, for R20,500, looked very professional, and she happily paid the money. 

“I was promised a waybill and tracking number once I sent the proof of payment,” she said.

“Never happened. Then saw other reviews. And now their email and web page no longer live and the WhatsApp Business number going to voicemail. The landline not answered.”

Others have reported a similar experience with the company, which previously went by the name of VP-Equip, and will no doubt be using another name by now. My attempts to contact them were fruitless.

They purport to sell expensive appliances, so their victims’ losses are relatively big.

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In June, Angela posted this on HelloPeter: “After seeing all the scam reviews I can't understand how this website is still operational. I "bought" a Speed Queen 8.2kg washing machine from them online. They were in communication with me on email and WhatsApp until my POP had been sent through to them and they confirmed my order would be shipped the following day. Now I am unable to email them, call them or WhatsApp them.”

Windermere Centre manager Jocelyn Hallot has a long list of people who’ve paid big money for non-existent appliances, and then gone looking for the company at the centre, based on the address on their invoice.

“By all accounts they started off as PURE VEGAN,” she told me. “Then they changed their name to VP-Equip, using 163 Windermere Rd as there pin address.

“Their telephone number was answered intermittently while their fax number was actually a landline belonging to Transnet.

“The VP-Equip webpage suddenly disappeared and I started receiving calls about a company called “Big O Trading” but with the same e-mail address as VP-Equip being sales@

It’s important to know how big brand appliances such as Smeg, Thermovix, Smeg etc are legitimately sold, and for what price, in order to avoid being scammed.

READ MORE: What really counts as an online purchase? Learn from this Consumerwatch case study

The Thermomix, for example, is distributed only by the Swiss Diversitas Group via a network of direct marketing agents,  and the TM6 model sells for a set R26,000 - no discounts.

So if any other company offers one for sale at any other price, it’s a scam.

Take a listen as Wendy further explains ways to stay alert and aware of scamming online: 

Cyber crime - don’t think it won’t happen to you

This one is primarily for the owners of relatively small businesses.

The 2020/21 Santam Insurance Barometer Report, released yesterday, revealed that the move to working from home has played very nicely into the hands of cyber criminals.

The short-term insurer surveyed 400 commercial and corporate entities, 401 consumers, and 150 insurance brokers across South Africa in a bid to find out how COVID-19 has impacted risks for both corporates and consumers.

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It emerged that more than 97% of large corporates had staff working from home during the lockdown, with commercial businesses and SMEs reporting figures of roughly two thirds.

Now 18 months on, half of companies’ staff members are still working from home, but only 17% of them had changed their insurance cover, and only 2% had made changes to their cyber security.

“Somewhat ironically,” Santam said, “the rapid adoption of digital technologies since the start of the pandemic has made us more vulnerable to cyber crime. 

“The shift towards remote working and digital communication give hackers more opportunity to infiltrate our digital worlds.

READ MORE: Buying a bed? Don’t be caught napping, says Consumerwatch’s Wendy Knowler

“But there is still a widespread perception that ‘it won’t happen to me' among South African businesses, which is concerning because the risk protection gap in this category is vast.”

There is also a misconception that cyber crime is a “big business” problem, Santam says.

"While large institutions may represent more lucrative targets, smaller businesses are easier to attack because they often lack the advanced security measures required.

"It is crucial that both big and small businesses recognise the significant threat that cyber crime poses, and ensure they are adequately protected against its potentially crippling effects." 

I recently chatted to John McLoughlin, CEO of Cape Town-based cyber security company J2, who has warned his clients that cyber criminals have upped their game in impersonating their suppliers in order to pull off the old “these are our new banking details” fraud.

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They are now going as far as spoofing numbers to pretend to be the correct company, and then phoning them to “verify” the new banking details, using people with accents to match the names, in one case an “older sounding woman with an Afrikaans accent” in order to trick them into believing everything is legit.

And it all starts with them hacking into the company’s email system and monitoring their emails on the look-out for emails with invoices from suppliers.


Says John: "Implementing DMARC - Domain-based Message Authentication, Reporting, and Conformance - standards can protect your brand from being impersonated, and making your staff, suppliers and clients aware  of the issue will make it harder for the impersonators to succeed."

And, of course, Santam says: “Where cyber criminals are successful, having the right cover in place will provide timely access to service providers that will help businesses manage any potential fallout and possible clean-up operations.

"As a consumer, before you pay any invoice that has been emailed to you, look up the company’s phone number (not the one on the invoice!) and call to check that the bank account details are correct."

Contact Wendy

Get in touch with Wendy via her website or her Facebook page. Please note that Wendy is not able to personally respond to every email she receives. If she is able to take up your case, she will contact you directly. Here are other avenues for you to consider.

Listen to more podcasts from Wendy Knowler in the Consumerwatch channel below: 

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