“Scam,” “bogus,” and “fraud” are perhaps the most dreaded words when it comes to the e-commerce or online business space.
Unfortunately, scams do happen and can happen on both sides: there are fraud sellers and there are bogus and/or fraud buyers.
When it comes to online selling, we often hear of scammers such as bogus sellers selling fake products, misdeclared items, conducting false advertisements, and deliberately selling bogus, damaged, or substandard products (“lemons”) that are not worth the price that a customer or online buyer paid for.
Luckily, many measures are now in place, and many customers are now equipped with information and legal ways to avoid such scams and fraudulent transactions.
There are also consumer laws that might be able to offer some protection against these bogus or fake sellers and buyers.
In the following sections, let us focus on bogus buyers and also look at a few ideas that might show how sellers (such as those on Shopee) can avoid these bogus buyers and buyer fraud in general.
What is a bogus buyer?
The “bogus buyer” is a fairly new concept, specifically when it comes to e-commerce and online retail. Most will agree that in most cases, a bogus buyer is defined as a person or customer who will buy something online to scam or “fool” the seller.
Most often, the bogus buyer will order the item online but not pay for it. Usually, the bogus buyer will declare that the item received is damaged; deny that the item was received, or refuse to pay the item outright due to various—often made-up–reasons.
In recent years, the bogus buyer has taken the form of a person who often “reserves” or “makes a bid” to purchase an item online only to back out. We can only imagine the inconvenience and the lost sales in such a scenario. A whole new category the “joy resellers” can also be considered a form of bogus buyer.
So to recap, a bogus buyer will often operate in a few basic ways:
The intent to buy
A bogus buyer will express an intention to buy an online item and will follow the usual process of reserving the product. Reserving the product serves an important purpose. Aside from giving the seller advance information that the customer will buy it, the seller can also take the item off the shelf so that other customers can no longer purchase it. This is particularly applicable to hard-to-find items. However, the bogus buyer will all of a sudden cancel the reservation. The particular frustrating part is that the bogus buyer will often “disappear,” to complete the buyer fraud.
What does this mean to the seller? Aside from losing the sale, the seller will also lose the opportunity to sell the product to a legitimate buyer. Of course, a buyer can always put it up for sale again, but the time and effort are already wasted.
The refusal to pay
A bogus buyer goes through the usual process of reserving, confirming, and having the item delivered. The problem arises when the supposed customer now refuses to receive the item due to multiple reasons. In the Philippines, this scenario might be rare, as customers are often charged delivery fees. However, the seller will bear the brunt of time wasted and lost opportunities.
The request for a refund
Again, the bogus buyer goes through the whole process and receives the transaction, and pays for it. However, a bogus buyer will make false accusations regarding the received item, such as claims that the product is incomplete, damaged, or not the right item that was ordered. The bogus buyer will then try to demand some monetary compensation or a refund. Unfortunately, some of these bogus buyers might even invoke the mantra “The customer is always right” in a twisted way making it even harder for the seller to resolve such an issue.
The fake or prank delivery scam
This modus might be aligned more with the “intent to buy” category but it perhaps deserves to be mentioned on its own. There was a widely covered news item in the Philippines in late 2021 involving a massive surge of fake deliveries so much so that the Philippines’ Department of Trade Industry had to step in. How did the bogus buying happen? It was reported that numerous delivery riders fell victim to a fake booking in Manila after a prankster ordered food worth thousands of pesos from them without paying.
The modus is truly nefarious. It even involved prominent personalities and politicians. One case involved more than 100,000 pesos of groceries that were supposedly ordered and had to be paid via cash-on-delivery (COD).
It was later found out that fictitious names and fake identities have been used in the said fraudulent transactions.
How can Shopee Sellers protect themselves?
As one of the most popular selling platforms and marketplaces in the world, Shopee has made significant breakthroughs in making sure its customers are protected from scams.
Although scams might be considered inevitable, because sellers and buyers can always have the option to transact outside the online platform, scammers and bogus sellers nowadays are fairly easy to spot.
Shopee, a premier marketplace, also has its Shopee Guarantee feature which is said to protect both sellers and buyers. In a nutshell, this feature “protects users by holding the payment to sellers until the buyer confirms the receipt of the order. Once the buyer accepts the order, the payment will be released to the seller.” It is a lot more complex than this short description, but it essentially makes sure that buyers and sellers are both protected.
Online marketplaces, such as Shopee are also very strict to make sure only legit merchants can join the platform. Policies are also in place to make sure merchants abide by rules to protect not only customers but also themselves.
Shopee’s Seller Education Hub, for example, has very useful information when it comes to seller protection. One key recommendation from Shopee is that sellers are not allowed to direct buyers to transact outside Shopee.
As a Shopee Seller, it is always useful to tap Shopee’s trove of information and be familiar with the platform’s policies.
Unfortunately, even on a platform such as Shopee, scams can still happen.
Here are a few more ways Shopee Sellers can protect themselves against bogus buyers.
Information is key
There are laws specifically against bogus buyers. In the Philippines, one law–Article 315 of the Revised Penal Code–is often used against bogus buyers.
This law states that “estafa or swindling is committed with unfaithfulness or abuse of confidence, by means of false pretenses or fraudulent acts, and through fraudulent means.”
This law targets bogus buyers using fictitious names and violators may get serious prison time depending on the amount of fraudulent transaction involved. Shopee Sellers can also have access to the above-mentioned Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) which has its hotline dealing with prank callers and bogus buyers.
One of the recommendations that the DTI often gives to online sellers is to document the whole transaction between the seller and bogus or fake buyers. Mobile messages, chat messages, calls, etc. can be used against the bogus buyer as these interactions can be proof of a bogus buyer’s intentions.
An enhanced terms and conditions
Shopee Sellers can also enhance or strengthen their “terms and conditions.” Although you might need legal experts on this, the effort will be worth it when it comes to protection against bogus buyers.
One provision on your terms and conditions might be more thorough “buyer information” requirements particularly if the item is on the expensive side. Again, having a legal expert might be needed to “foolproof” your terms and conditions.
Another way is a seller can also set up payment options and tap third-party solutions providers for this. While many buyers and sellers lean toward COD transactions, it is perhaps more prudent to pre-payment options, to make refunds or claims of item return less of a headache for the Shopee Seller.
Under the terms and conditions, the seller might also be able to set time limits for products that have been reserved. This can be particularly useful for bogus buyers who often reserve items but have no intention to pay. Setting time limits and other conditions for specific returns and refunds might also be useful. Asking customers for proof, such as videos or photos of the unboxing of goods might be a good idea, particularly when it comes to refunds or returns. As a seller, you can also document that the product being shipped is in good condition, before passing it on to the delivery or fulfillment provider.
Perhaps you can also have a buyer rating system that can be used to warn other sellers of particular buyers? While public shaming of bogus buyers might sound like a very good idea, this can still be tricky, particularly if the seller does not have enough evidence against the bogus buyer. Also, certain privacy issues exist and should be considered. Again, familiarizing yourself with the policies of the online platform will be very useful.
These methods are not new, and most Shopee Sellers now have them in place but depending on your market, these methods can be enhanced and improved to deal with bogus buyers.
Nowadays, legitimate online sellers and buyers have at their disposal many tools to combat fraud.
And e-commerce and online businesses will continue to grow exponentially in the years to come.
Online marketplaces and platforms, such as Shopee, have measures in place to protect both sellers and buyers from scams and in a perfect world, identifying and preventing bogus transactions should be a breeze, particularly in e-commerce.
However, it is not a perfect world, and scams and frauds will not go away any time soon. The best we can do is be informed, be vigilant, conduct research, and learn, among others, to better protect ourselves against frauds and scams.