Plague the Internet from the April 2000 Actrix Newsletter
Based on an article by Tom Stein and published in The San Francisco Chronicle 7 September 1999.
Bill Banks, a 42-year-old
financial planner from New Jersey, was in the market for a new set of golf clubs. Like
many of today's wired consumers, he jumped onto the Internet to check out the best deals.
He now wishes he hadn't.
their customer service number countless times, but mostly I've just been hung up on or
disconnected," he said. "If this was a traditional retailer, I could go to the
shop and stand in front of them and demand satisfaction," he said. "But in
cyberspace, I feel I don't have any control."
The number of online fraud complaints leaped from 1,280 in 1997 to 7,752 last year, according to the Internet Fraud Watch, a consumer watchdog group in Washington. Susan Grant, who directs the organisation, expects to tally well over 10,000 complaints this year.
A number of consumer groups, such as the Internet Fraud Watch and Better Business Bureau Online, are popping up to educate the public about the perils of conducting business in cyberspace. For the most part, these groups believe in the power of the Internet and the convenience it offers consumers. They just want to make sure people are aware of the risks and take the proper precautions.
|One piece of advice is to
question out-of- this-world claims made on Web sites. "If it's too good to be true,
it probably is," said Pat Wallace, president of the Bay Area chapter of the Better
Business Bureau, based in Oakland.
The most flagrant piece of Internet fraud Wallace has encountered was a Web page hosted by a fly-by-night company called National Research Inc. The site was offering 12,000 free computers and all consumers had to do to receive one was send $20 to a certain post office box in Muskegan, Michigan.
"This was a pure scam," said Wallace. "They were cashing $20 cheques from anyone they could, and then they dropped off the face of the Earth."
Cash and cheques are the worst way to purchase goods and services over the Internet, according to experts. Cash, checks or money orders don't offer the same protection that a credit card does. Once a cheque or money order is cashed, there is little to no chance of restitution. Credit cards [make] up a minuscule 8 percent of all fraudulent transactions, while cheques and money orders made up 38 percent and 33 percent, respectively.
In an effort to make Internet shopping less risky for consumers, the BBB (Better Business Bureau Online) two years ago unveiled an online reliability program. As part of the program, a representative from the agency visits each company, no matter how big or small, at its place of business to determine whether it can indeed deliver on what it promises on the web site.
"We need to meet the people and ascertain the company has a real physical presence, and is not just a bunch of screens," said Steve Salter, project director for BBBOnLine.
So far 3,700 companies, such as Lands End, Staples, eBay and CDNow have received the seal of approval, while several hundred others have been turned down.