$69 perfume offer online turns out to be a water bottle

Fraudsters luring shoppers with bargain-basement prices, then vanish after the transactions

When foreign domestic worker Emelda Cariaga, 52, saw two bottles of branded perfume being sold for $69 on Facebook in April, she was thrilled.

Normally, the Chloe Signature Eau de Parfum would cost about $150 for a single 50ml bottle.

But after she paid for the items in cash to the deliveryman at her employer's condominium in Orchard Road, all she found in the box she received was a metal hot water bottle.

Ms Cariaga was a victim of a cash-on-delivery (COD) scam. And these scams are becoming more common.

Logistics firm Ninja Van said it has received 3,000 to 5,000 complaints a month this year, up from 500 to 800 a month last year.

Fraudsters are taking advantage of shoppers like Ms Cariaga, luring them with bargain-basement prices, then vanishing after the transaction.

Ms Cariaga said: "Every time they advertise on Facebook, they change their names. Even if I chat with them on Facebook Messenger, I cannot find the chat because I can't remember their names."

As a result, buyers have a hard time tracking down sellers to obtain a refund.

And because customers cannot locate the sellers, they lodge their complaints with logistics firms like Ninja Van.

To raise awareness of COD scams, Ninja Van is working with the Singapore Police Force to distribute fliers ahead of the year-end shopping season.

Noting that COD scams are a subset of e-commerce scams, the police said they come with the increasing popularity of online shopping as people make multiple purchases online.

It added: "Victims would sometimes make payment unknowingly, under the false impression it was one of the many items they had purchased."

In the first half of this year, e-commerce scams were the second most common type of scam reported. Last year, there were 3,354 cases, up from 2,816 in 2019.

The total amount lost tripled from $2.3 million in 2019 to $6.9 million last year.

To tackle this problem, Ninja Van has partnered Aidha, an organisation that helps foreign domestic workers, to organise workshops to teach them how to spot a COD scam. The first workshop took place in August via Zoom.

Other social media and logistics platforms are playing a part to tackle scams too.

Facebook said it uses a combination of technology, human review and user reports to find and remove content that violates its rules.

Anyone convicted of cheating can be fined or jailed for up to three years on each charge, or both.

Janio, a logistics firm that handles COD orders, said it publishes advisories on such scams on its website to educate consumers.

Carousell advises users to meet in well-lit, public places and to meet buyers so that they can inspect items before paying.

But such measures may be too late for shoppers like Ms Cariaga.

She said: "I've stopped shopping online... Now, if I go shopping at the mall, I buy three times my usual amount so I don't have to go out again."

Tips to avoid scams

  • Opt for buyer protection using in-built payment options on e-commerce platforms.
  • Shoppers often believe retailers will run promotions during the festive season. Always check the usual price of the product first.
  • Be more cautious when browsing newly launched websites that do not have customer reviews.
  • Meet up with the seller before making payment. If the parcel is much smaller than advertised, it may be a scam.
  • Check if the delivery tracking number on the parcel you receive is the same as the one for the item you ordered.