Users of e-trading platforms in Rwanda are increasingly getting concerned about the lack of clear and binding consumer rights protection mechanisms even as online fraud risks become prevalent.
The country’s quick Internet penetration rate has seen many e-commerce platforms coming up including the entry of players like Jumia, Carisoko and Rwandacarmart.
Most websites enable interested sellers to post and link up with potential buyers for all sorts of goods ranging from new or second hand cars, electronics, clothes, appliances and others.
However, users, especially in the vehicle and appliances’ classified sections have complained about misleading posts and fraudulent merchants posing as genuine sellers with attractive price tags.
“Why don’t websites stop fraudulent merchants from posting even after they are discovered to be liars? Even reputable digital platforms don’t vet their vendors before granting them access to posts,” said Emmy Hakizimana, a regular online shopper.
An analysis of posts showed deceitful sellers display low-priced products like cars and electronics to lure clients.
For instance, while a 2002 Toyota Avensis car on one of the platforms had a Rwf5 million ($5,936) price tag, a post from a different seller registered with the same platform demanded Rwf2 million ($2,374) for a 2008 Toyota Avensis.
When these sellers were contacted, their numbers had international dialling codes despite them indicating their location as Kigali.
Efforts to get in touch with them through e-mail or telephone were unsuccessful for several days despite the website showing they were verified.
When contacted, the digital platform owners, who did not want to speak on record, said none of the products listed on the site are owned or sold by their platform. They are also not involved in transactions between the buyers and sellers who connect on their site.
This brings into question the caution exercised by digital platforms to ensure consumers don’t fall victim to dishonest merchants especially since they authorise the posts.
Eric Saba, a former broker who runs an online shopping website said no one requires digital platforms to verify the legitimacy of vendors they advertise with or check if their products are available.
Mr Saba said only a few platforms have entered into partnerships with well-known shops, where they direct orders and get paid by clients on delivery. However, this is still limited to a few commodities like clothes and food.
“I make sure that the vehicles that I sell are available. I’ve had to block access to many scammers from China, South Africa and Nigeria. So anyone who posts on my platform has a product that I’ve seen, taken pictures of and we have agreed on the amount of commission charged,” he said.
Rwanda’s consumer protection laws haven’t yet considered ways to deal with new risks posed by e-commerce, despite the country’s commendable digital penetration, which allows access to the Internet.
The 2012 Act on consumer protection barely mentions anything to do with transactions on online market places. Consumer rights advocates say a few reported cases are treated in the broad context of cyber crimes.
“Online shopping is growing at a fast rate but our laws are not changing with the same pace. We get many cases and complaints of online fraud, but there is a need to ensure a secure environment for e-commerce,” said Theodoric Uzaburaho, head of ADECOR, a local consumer rights body.