My kids love mermaid’s tails. They used ones specially made for swimming when we were visiting family last summer, and my youngest in particular has been asking for one ever since. So, when I saw an ad on Instagram showing personalised mermaid’s tail blankets, I jumped at the chance. I am a pretty savvy online shopper, and this website looked legitimate, so I figured it was safe enough to purchase from them.

After I made my purchase (which came to nearly €100 after shipping), I received a confirmation email from a different company than the one I purchased the blankets from. Then, I received the receipt from the correct business. This concerned me, and I did something then which I should have done before making the online purchase – I Googled the company to read customer reviews and ensure it was legitimate.

Research after the fact

On the review site, this company received a rating of just 2.2 out of 5 and those who have ordered from them said they received no tracking information, or, while they did receive their order, the names were misspelled and the quality was terrible.

On, the website received a “very bad” trust rating of just 1.1. While the things I looked for (an “https” at the beginning of the website address, which indicates a secure website; secure payment method, etc.) were there, I learned that their domain name was less than six months old (which is a red flag), and the owner of the domain name was hidden. also indicated the domain had a “short life expectancy”. This could mean that the person or people running the business are doing it for quick gains – to make as much money as possible in a short period of time.

After reading this, I felt – like anyone else who has ever been affected by a scam – really stupid. We kept a close eye on our credit card transactions. Thankfully, I did receive a tracking code, eventually, and the blankets did arrive. But I am now more wary than ever about clicking on ads from social media sites, like Instagram.

Not alone

If you were affected by a scam in the lead up to or around the Christmas holidays, take some solace in the fact that you are not alone.

According to the latest FraudSMART report, which was released just before the Black Friday sales in November, 2022, the amount stolen by fraudsters in the second half of 2021 was up by 37% and accounted to nearly €45million.

When I told my close friends about how silly I was to trust this random website, each one of them told me they had made either the exact same or a very similar mistake – and we are all women who are comfortable making online purchases and “should know better”.

Can happen to anyone

The FraudSMART report, which is conducted by the Banking and Payments Federation of Ireland (BPFI), says credit and debit card fraud is at its highest level since 2017 and unauthorised electronic payment fraud rose to €21.5million (this was driven by the increase in mobile and online banking).

fraudsters are professionals - this is their full time job - so don’t be embarrassed; this is what they’re paid to do

Niamh Davenport is the head of financial crime at BPFI. She says that, when it comes to being scammed, there is nothing to be embarrassed about.

“I always say fraudsters are professionals - this is their full time job - so don’t be embarrassed; this is what they’re paid to do, so they’re going to be good at doing it,” she tells Irish Country Living.

“This isn’t just for the holiday season,” she adds. “It’s all the time – [scam] websites have become so much more convincing. It’s not even that they are fake – these are real websites. What we recommend is to never click on or trust the ads you see on Instagram or Facebook (and we’ve all done that!).”

Do your research

While she believes in supporting small businesses, Niamh says there are ways you can help keep yourself safe when making these online purchases.

“Especially for those smaller website purchases, the advice we would give is try to use Paypal, a Visa or a Mastercard,” she explains. “This is a safer way of paying as you at least have a way of getting the money back, if you don’t end up receiving your order. You can contact your bank and, in that case, there is insurance from their chargeback scheme. I love to buy local and from small businesses, but take those extra steps and do your research.”

Many of the ads you see online offering huge deals on brand name or high end products are often fake. These usually come from ‘copycat’ websites; featuring things like Ray-Ban sunglasses, Doc Martin boots or designer handbags for extremely deflated prices. They are one classic way online scammers operate, but they can also be easier to spot.

“It’s a lot easier, with larger brands, to have an idea of whether the deal is real,” Niamh explains. “Once you click on those links and see the website is not the website of the actual brand, you realise it is probably a scam website.”

Text scams continue

Text messages from the HSE saying you have been a close contact of someone with COVID-19 or from An Post saying you need to pay postage on a package are common scams. It’s important to remember that neither organisation will ask for personal details or banking information via text.

In November, 2022, An Post announced they no longer include any payment links in texts or emails to help customers be clearer on what it a genuine message and what isn’t.

“An Post will never ask a customer to pay charges or provide payment information through a link in a text or email. Customers should never ever click on any link asking for payment for delivery or a customs charge. Such fees should only ever be checked and paid directly through or at any local post office,” said An Post’s mails and parcels specialist, Julie Gill,

Everyday lives

“Fraudsters are so sophisticated these days,” Niamh tells Irish Country Living. “They’re getting into our everyday lives. In all of these scenarios, they are just trying to get your bank card information. The text messages seem so real, and they always seem to be one step ahead of us.”

With a bit of knowledge, though, you can keep yourself safe and - if you do fall for a scam website, knowing to act quickly (contacting your bank, cancelling debit cards if necessary or - like me - simply keeping an eye on account transactions if you’re unsure) will save you a lot of grief in the long term.

What is a chargeback scheme?

If you need to dispute a payment made by your Visa or Mastercard, you can request a chargeback from your bank, generally within 120 days of the purchase. Your bank can issue a refund request on your behalf to the credit card company. This can be for goods paid for online but never received, or purchases on your card which you have not personally made. It is recommended to first contact the supplier directly and ask for a refund.

Read more

Occupancy a great deterrent to burglars – Garda

Farmers urged to be alert for online scams