We all love a bargain, but just how sensible is it to buy equipment that your life will depend upon, over the internet, from someone you dont know?
More and more of us are shopping online - books, DVDs, flights, hotel bookings, even groceries. If you are comfortable using your credit card online, and know what you want to buy without having to inspect it in person first, then shopping on one of the many dive shop internet sites can be a very rewarding experience.
Theres greater choice, the ability to compare prices, and internet shops never close; you can be browsing the latest shiny dive accessories at 3am if thats what takes your fancy. Internet? We love it to bits.
Everything is lovely in the cyberspace until your goods turn up and turn out to be not what you ordered. Or turn out to be defective and broken. Or simply dont turn up at all.
Its at this point that the quality and reputation of the website that you purchased from becomes critical. All the major dive equipment websites run by dive shops are committed to sort out the problem ie take returns without a quibble, track your deliveries, and refund your credit card if necessary.
Youve been scammed
Buying dive kit over the internet isn't as simple as ordering something generic like a book, a DVD or a rubber chicken. Kit has to fit your individual needs, and it has to be in good working order - not something that you can judge from a photo on a website. Youll have to trust the seller, but if you arent buying from a reputable dive shop website, just where are you placing your trust ?
Last year a stolen Inspiration turned up on Ebay. Fortunately vigilant Inspiration users spotted this before some poor victim spent £3,000 on a rebreather which would have been confiscated as soon as they tried to get a course or register it with Ambient Pressure.
While the vast majority of Ebay users are genuine and legitimate, you wont have to talk to many people using the site before you find somebody who got ripped off. A recent report by the Metropolitan Police suggested that up to 70% of all stolen goods are being disposed of through the relative anonymity of internet sales.
Just as our use of the internet gets more sophisticated, so do the scams.
Kit is expensive - even more so if your 'bargain internet purchase turns out to be stolen, broken or non-returnable and you end up buying twice. Worse, swapping your financial details online could give an unscrupulous seller the opportunity to harvest your credit card details or empty your bank account. Online fraud is one of the fastest growing crimes in the UK.
Knowing the cost of everything... but the value of nothing
If youre a price-driven person, remember that dive shops are not necessarily more expensive than the internet. Many will match prices or have their own reputable websites with competitive offers.
But it's not simply about the money - good advice and a helpful service is priceless.
Internet shopping is here to stay, but dont underestimate the value of your local dive shop. Shop wisely in every sense: always be careful who you are buying from, and wherever possible, support the UK diving community by using dive shops.
For an excellent guide to shopping for dive equipment on the internet, visit www.divernet.com/equipment/0603shop3.shtml
Dive Girl guide to Internet shopping
- Check that the website you use is part of an existing, UK-based dive shop, preferably one that is well-established.
- Do not touch any website that fails to provide an address and land-based telephone number. Anyone who is secretive about their contact details is likely to be dodgy.
- Is there a clear delivery date? A returns policy? Will you get a manufacturer's warranty? What happens if the delivery fails to arrive - is it tracked? Insured?
- If you are paying online, make sure the server you use is secure - there should be a padlock symbol on display.
- Use a credit card, never a debit card. Refer disputes to your credit card company they can charge-back the amount from the seller.
Common internet scams (and how to avoid them)
- Straight fraud - the most common internet scam is to advertise goods that either don't exist, or are not as described, and the seller just 'disappears'
- Phishing - people trying to extract your financial details and any passwords needed to get access to the account; often by posing as a bank on email messages.
Do not respond to any emails asking you to confirm your financial details. Do not give credit card information to strangers - even those posing as sellers. Only use a secure server for financial transactions.
- Laundering - people who persuade you to cash cheques on their behalf and forward the money - often by posing as a buyer of goods that you've advertised online.
As a favour, you pay a cheque into your account for substantially more than the purchase price and when it appears to have cleared you send on the balance to the buyer. A few days later the cheque turns out to be invalid and the bank withdraws the entire amount from your account.
- Faking - people who contact you after a successful internet auction claiming to offer an 'escrow' service ie they hold your money safely until the goods have arrived, or hold your goods until your buyer's payment has cleared. But - guess what - you'll never see either the goods or the money again.