The Philippines’ internet economy has seen tremendous growth in recent years, and it’s only expected to expand further. This trend is due in no small measure to the country’s robust GDP growth, which is expected by global financial think-tanks to reach a rate of as fast as 6.3% in 2020.
According to a report by Google and Temasek, the Philippines’ internet economy is expected to grow from $5 billion in 2018 to $21 billion by 2025. This figure includes the market sizes of four main sectors, namely ecommerce, ride-hailing, online media, and online travel. And while the growth rate of the Philippines’ internet economy is relatively slower compared to those of regional rivals like Indonesia, Thailand, and Vietnam, researchers believe that an increased focus and investment from local startups and regional tech companies could actually result in a faster rate of expansion reaching more than 30% compound annual growth.
The Philippines’ ecommerce industry has a particularly promising prospect, with the sector’s market size being expected to grow from $1 billion in 2018 to $10 billion by 2024, according to the same report. Another study, this time by the Brookings Institution, notes that the Philippines’ burgeoning middle class is set to outspend Italy’s middle class by as early as 2030.
All the numbers point to the exponential expansion of the internet economy in the Philippines. However, with this growth comes new challenges and new anxieties that Filipinos must face. Among these is the question of just how safe it really is to pay for goods and services online. In view of this, we’ve outlined some of the best practices that you, as a consumer, can observe when using the internet to shop for products or to pay for anything else using your credit card, debit card, or any other payment facility. Hopefully, this guide will help you develop the habits necessary to make all your online transactions safe, secure, and hassle-free.
Make Sure That You’re Buying from a Trustworthy Platform
First among our list of tips is for you to always make certain that you’re only sharing your payment information with a legitimate and trustworthy website or application. Note that traditional shopping—carried out in brick-and-mortar stores—has one undeniable advantage over online shopping. When you buy from a physical store, you’re 100% sure that the business is actually in operation, and you can be certain that whatever products you buy, you’re actually going to get them when you check out. With online shopping, you don’t get to physically inspect whether or not the shop and its inventory are legitimate. That’s why it’s important to be 100% certain that you’re buying things only from platforms you can actually trust.
If you’re purchasing from the official website of a brand or a company, or from a well-known retailer or distributor of the said brand, then you can be more or less sure that you will receive your orders, barring problems in shipping or fulfillment. On the other hand, you should be wary about providing your payment details to unfamiliar websites, especially those that you access through links from dubious emails or dodgy Facebook advertisements. We’ll tell you more about this later.
Evaluate the Store, Even If It’s Operating within a Well-Known Online Marketplace
Just because you’re purchasing items from well-known online marketplaces like Lazada and Shopee, that doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re buying from a reliable seller. It’s a known fact that counterfeit and substandard products are sold by many sellers in such platforms, and it’s often not very easy to tell if you’re getting the real deal or not.
To mitigate potential problems, consider buying only from official stores within these platforms. Both of the online marketplaces mentioned above have their own in-app space—namely LazMall and Shopee Mall—where the virtual stores of leading local and international brands, as well as the stores of official distributors or licensed sellers are showcased. By virtue of their official status, most of these stores also offer warranty and after-sales support services, which adds another layer of protection for you as a buyer.
If you really need to purchase items outside of these “mall” stores, make sure to size up the seller you are buying from. Check if they’ve had any customers in the past, and read their reviews just to see if other people have anything negative to say about them. It’ also a good idea to check where the store is based. If they ship from a Philippine address instead of from overseas, it’s going to be much easier to reach out to them—or to report them to the authorities—should you experience issues with your purchase.
Check the Security of the Website
One easy way to determine whether a website is secure or not is to check if the URL of the site has an “S” at the end of the “HTTP,” meaning you should see “HTTPS.”
Basically “HTTPS” means Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure, which is a type of connection that only delivers data that has been secured by SSL or Secured Sockets Layer technology. This means that any data you share with the website is encrypted, so it can be shared safely with that site.
Ensuring that you shop only from sites with HTTPS connection is very important, especially if you are sharing delicate financial information like the details of your credit card or debit card. The security protocol ensures that the data you share will only be used to process your payment for that site and cannot be intercepted and stolen by unauthorized individuals that use the same network as you.
Share as Little Information as Possible
Most ecommerce websites will require you to provide just your name, email address, and shipping address if you’re ordering goods online. In some cases, they’ll ask for your phone number as well, just in case their logistics provider needs to contact you to clarify where the shipping location is. These are all the basic details that stores will typically need of you, so you should be wary about those that ask for more information.
Never provide details like your Tax Identification Number or your Social Security System Number. In addition, be careful about providing your birth date as well. Remember, by giving too much information, you’re opening yourself up to the risk of identity theft and financial fraud.
Never Purchase Anything Online When Using Public Computers or Public Wi-Fi
It’s never a good idea to use a public computer to make online purchases. After all, you never know who else has access to that device and the network it is using. However, even connecting to a public Wi-Fi using your own device can be just as dangerous.
Don’t think for a second that you’re safe just because you’re using your own computer or smartphone while connected to a public Wi-Fi. Within a public network, it takes very little technical knowhow for cybercriminals to see and record the details that you input into your device, allowing them to grab not just your name and address but also your bank details and other payment information.
It’s a good idea to make online payments only in the comfort of your own home, where you can use your own private Wi-Fi. If you really need to make online purchases in public, however, make sure to use your own mobile data to connect to the internet, or use a virtual private network (VPN) to add a layer of security over your payment-related activities.
Use a Virtual Private Network or VPN
As mentioned, a virtual private network (VPN) can help you create a secure connection to another network when using the internet. By extending a private network across a public network, VPN technology allows device users to send and receive sensitive data as though they were doing it within a private network. This makes online shopping or online payments safer if you’re using a public Wi-Fi, but all the more so if you’re already connected to a private Wi-Fi to begin with.
VPNs are typically provided by tech security companies as a subscription service, and in terms of features, there are quite a few that stand out. Online technology publication Techradar releases a list of top VPN providers each year, and for 2020, this list includes ExpressVPN, Surfshark, IPVanish, Cyberghost, Hotspot Shield, and NordVPN. Currently, these companies’ VPN subscription prices range from PHP 380 to PHP 650 per month, but the costs are significantly lower if you choose multiple-month subscription terms.
Don’t Fall for Email and Social Media Phishing Scams
Earlier, it was mentioned how you should exercise caution whenever you’re prompted to provide your payment details to certain ecommerce sites, especially if you’re directed there from dubious links sent through email or social media sites like Facebook.
To be more precise, you should be wary about even clicking those links to begin with. In clicking such links, you could unwittingly download a virus or a malware, which could then infect your computer. Cybercriminals can easily use such malicious software to steal your data or to block access to your computer until you agree to pay them a certain sum of money.
Some links can also lead you to fake websites, which are also used by cybercriminals to steal data or money from people. Many such websites will pretend to be legitimate ecommerce or banking platforms, while others can even mimic the look and feel of the official websites run by companies or banks in a bid to steal your cash or information. This technique is known as phishing, and it involves criminal entities posing as genuine institutions to try to acquire your banking details or your personally identifiable information.
Don’t let yourself be a victim of such tricks! Always make sure that the URL of the website you are on corresponds to the real URL of the ecommerce website or financial institution you are intending to use. For example, the real URL of the Robinsons Bank website is https://www.robinsonsbank.com.ph/. If you notice that “robinsonsbank” has misspellings, or if the URL is using a different top-level domain—for example .net or something else instead of .com—then it’s most likely a fake or even a phishing website.
Check Your Bank and Payment Card Statements Often
Since financial fraud can occur any time, you would be well advised to review your bank or payment card statements on a regular basis. This way, you’ll know if your account has been compromised, and you’ll be able to quickly catch any fraudulent activity. It will be much easier for you and your bank to deal with the situation, and you’ll be able to prevent further theft of your money.
Create Strong Passwords, and Change Them as Often as Possible
When thinking of passwords to use in your online accounts, make sure that they are hard to crack. A complex password typically comprises a combination of lowercase and uppercase letters, and also numbers and symbols. It’s recommended that you avoid using actual words as part of your password, and you certainly shouldn’t use easy-to-guess combinations (“12345” or “abcde”) or any information that can be easily guessed by other people, for example, your birthday or your pet’s name.
Moreover, it’s a good idea to change your passwords often. If this is something you likely wouldn’t do, then consider not saving your payment details and your personally identifiable information in the websites you are using. Remember, even the biggest companies can get hacked, and cybercriminals can steal your information from their websites with you being none the wiser.
Consider Using a Digital Wallet
Using a digital wallet like PayPal adds another layer of security to your online payment. With a PayPal account, you won’t have to leave your credit card or debit card details every time you shop in a new website. If that ecommerce site accepts PayPal as a payment facility, all you’ll have to do is log in to your PayPal account and process your payment through that platform. By masking your payment card’s details, a digital wallet like PayPal can actually help lessen your chance of becoming a victim of financial fraud.
If You Get Scammed, Complain to the Authorities
Don’t be afraid and don’t be embarrassed if you become a victim of identity theft or online scam. Instead, report the incident to authorities as soon as possible. The Fair Trade Enforcement Bureau (FTEB) of the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) can help you right away if you know the physical location of the merchant who did you wrong. Otherwise, you can also seek help from the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) to find the seller, especially since we don’t always know who the people are behind each ecommerce operation we transact with.
Many Filipinos love buying products and services online because not only is it convenient, it also opens consumers up to an entire universe of options that they wouldn’t be able to access anywhere else. With ecommerce and the other facets of the internet economy becoming more ubiquitous, it’s only fitting to equip yourself with the knowledge and discernment necessary to keep yourself safe when completing financial transactions online. Hopefully, you’ll be able to put our tips above to good use!