Lessons from an eZ cash scam: How to stay safe shopping online

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“Brand new iPhone X with warranty. Only Rs. 20,000.” reads the ad on ikman.lk. Seeing what you believe is a good deal while shopping online, you get in touch with the seller. He explains that he’s selling it for cheap because he got it free and doesn’t need it. Satisfied with the explanation, you agree to buy the phone. So the seller asks you to make an advance payment of through eZ cash.

If it seems too good to be true it probably is
If it seems too good to be true it probably is

At first, you think this is a bit weird and start to worry. But he assures you that he’s a genuine seller and this is a formality. So you head to the Cargills and deposit Rs.5,000 into the eZ cash account of the seller. Once the deposit is confirmed, the seller suddenly stops taking your calls. After many unanswered calls, you go to the police and Dialog but are frustratingly told that there’s no hope of getting your money back.

You might think this is ridiculous. But such a scenario already unfolded when Damith Devapura wanted to purchase a graphics card.

Understanding eZ cash

For those of you who are lost, eZ cash is a virtual wallet on your phone. Originally launched by Dialog in 2013, it has since expanded to support Etisalat, Airtel, and Hutch. Here’s a detailed guide that gives you the complete picture of how eZ cash works.

Since its launch in 2013, we’ve hardly heard of any large-scale scams being conducted through eZ cash. But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible for scams on a small scale like the one Damith fell victim to having taken place. So exactly what protections does eZ cash have in place in the event of a fraud?

We at ReadMe spoke with Manuri Jayasinghe, Specialist – Mobile Money at Dialog Axiata about the protections in place for eZ cash users. She shared that in the event of fraud, the process is for a report to be made to the police and to the Dialog hotline.

Dialog can then block the wallet belonging to the scammer. If the money is still in the wallet, then it can be recovered. However, if the money has already been withdrawn then it isn’t possible. And as we saw in Damith’s case, all a scammer has to do is visit a Commercial Bank ATM to withdraw the money.

So how can you stay safe? By paying attention

Visit any ad on ikman.lk and click the button to get the seller’s phone number. The moment you click that button you’re presented with the seller’s phone number along with a warning.  This warning clearly reminds anyone the basics of shopping online. In fact, it clearly states to watch out for unrealistic prices and requests for advance payments. 

One can argue that had Damith listened to this warning, he wouldn’t be Rs. 5,000 poorer today. As the saying goes, “Prevention is better than the cure.” So if you want to stay safe while shopping online, here are a few tips that apply whether you’re using eZ cash or your credit card.

ez cash shopping online scam - never made advance payments
Image credits: Business Recorder

Firstly, if it’s too good to be true then it likely is. Secondly, never make an advance payment to an unknown party. As we learned with this story, if you miss these key warnings then you’re very likely to lose your money. So if you want to purchase a product from a classifieds website, meet the seller in a public place and inspect the product. If the product is as described, then and only then should you pay the seller.

Of course, prior to this, you should check if the e-commerce website has any buyer protection. For example, eBay clearly states that “The eBay Money Back Guarantee protects you in case you do not receive your item, or if the item is not as described in the listing.” In contrast, ikman.lk states, “ikman.lk does not offer any form of payment scheme or protection.”

ez cash shopping online scam - check terms and conditionsThis means when shopping online you can be more trusting of the sellers on eBay because in a worst case scenario, you can ask the company to step in and return your money. Whereas, with websites like ikman.lk, you will need to take more precautions. But this thinking shouldn’t be limited to websites, you should also consider payment options as well.

The beauty of the internet is that you can buy things and pay for them with a variety of options. But in the case of fraud, not all of them will help you get your money back. eZ cash as we learned, won’t return your money. Whereas if you pay with your credit or debit card, if you call your bank and inform them that a fraudulent transaction was made (depending on how quickly you report it) they will reverse it.

Prevention is better than the cure

At the end of the day, the internet has a large variety of products and services to offer. But this variety isn’t without its downsides. Just like shopping in the physical world, the internet too has scammers that wish to steal your money. But irrespective of websites or whether you pay with eZ cash or your credit card, you can stay one step ahead of them if you just pay attention.

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