One of the goals that people have when walking into a business is experiencing firsthand the products or services they want to buy as well as having a specialist answer all their questions. Going online makes person-to-person communication difficult, so businesses need other things in place to build trust.
Albert Mehrabian and Ray Birdwhistell made big impacts in the field of communication. They discovered that body language and the way words are said (like the tone of voice) are many times more important in creating a sense of integrity and trust than the actual meaning of words. Honest, yet savvy online marketers know this, and try to overcome consumer hesitancy by creatively engaging the customer online, so the customer has a chance to learn about the product or service and vet the seller before they buy. Blogs, podcasts, interviews with experts, articles with citations, videos, consumer reviews, live chat, consumer forums, and a toll-free phone number to speak to a real person all have the potential to give consumers the chance to understand enough, so they feel they know as much or more than if they had been there in person. The growing popularity of all the above communication methods shows how much consumers want to verify the product quality and honesty of online vendors.
Ecommerce sales as a percentage of the USA retail economy rose from 5.1% in 2017 to 16.0% in 2019. However, not all the sales increase was achieved through high integrity marketing. Sneaky and manipulative marketing methods also abound on the web. There are many ways to spend money online that will end in disappointment. But the big money is lost to identity theft or fraud. Simply stated, this is how criminals use the internet to steal a person’s personal information or trick people into sending them money for something unwanted or of no value.
When buying online, it is best to use websites that use secure HTTP in their URLs, instead of just HTTP protocol. HTTP sites encrypt all message content and have a high layer of protection against cybercriminals. HTTP websites do not have this security feature, and a cybercriminal can steal consumer’s data while they are shopping.
Many cybercriminals acquire the names, phones, home addresses, email addresses, and other personal information that people carelessly post on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media. This makes people subject to phishing attacks via email, text, or telephone calls, where criminals pretend to be someone familiar or official (corporations, the IRS, government agencies, non-profits, etc.) and manipulate the person to give their social security number, provide credit card numbers, or other data that can be used to access the finances of that person. It is best for a consumer to not trust any messages asking for financial or private information and call the official phone number on the company’s official website or from account statements in one’s files to find out if the stated organization tried to reach out to them and why.
Seniors, military personnel, and veterans, social media users, and children are the most common casualties of identity theft, but anyone can easily become a victim if they let their guard down.
Another common scheme is rental fraud. In 2018 over 5.2 million people were victims and about one third lost $1000 or more. However, some rental scams are geared to trick people into giving financial and personal information instead of asking for money upfront, since scammers find the information more lucrative to exploit later or to sell the data to other criminals.
There are about 4 million court cases per year for debt claims, yet millions of more people are under mountains of debt and the stress makes them more susceptible to manipulation by scam artists. In 2019, consumer debt reached an all-time high of $14 trillion. Fraudulent debt collectors pose as a legitimate agency or the IRS. These scammers use phone calls, emails, and letters threatening to expose the victim’s financial situation to their friends or their employer or threatening the victims with jail time. The pressure the victim into revealing personal information, credit card numbers, or bank account information to resolve the debt immediately.
Internet security software is a necessity for anyone wanting to protect the data on their computer from theft, file corruption, keystroke, and password monitoring, or being secretly viewed by strange people through one’s own computer camera or microphone. The best security software programs are highly rated by the top 10 computer magazines, and going to several of these magazine websites will provide comparison shopping to help in making a good decision. These magazines are also a great source for articles on effective actions people can take to protect themselves from identity theft and fraud.
Due diligence is a word that is used in real estate to make sure that all the information exchanged is legitimate, on the level, and as requested. With computers and the digital world replacing face to face human contact, people should take responsibility and learn the types of due diligence necessary to protect their financial and information exchanges. Trust is a wonderful thing to have, but verification is necessary to protect that trust from being violated.
Turner Stephens has been a manager and consultant in the retail food industry and manufacturing for several decades.