Finance Consumer Australians have lost more than $4 million to online shopping scams in 2019
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Australians have lost more than $4 million to online shopping scams in 2019

The amount of money lost to online shopping scams in 2019 has already surpassed last year's total. Photo: Getty
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Scammers are using everything from smartphones to concert tickets as bait in online shopping scams that are costing Australians millions each year, the consumer watchdog has warned.

Consumers are losing record amounts to online shopping scams, with more than $4 million reported lost to online shopping scams this year according to Scamwatch.

The figure has already surpassed the $3.28 million reported lost in 2018.

“Reported losses have tripled over the last three years and it is concerning that losses from this year are already so high,” Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) deputy chair Delia Rickard said.

The lead-up to Christmas is a lucrative time for scammers looking to cash in on high-profile online sales events that attract thousands of bargain hunters.

“Scammers often try to take advantage of people doing their Christmas shopping including in the upcoming Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales,” Ms Rickard said

Shoes, smartphones, and tickets to events are among the most commonly reported items used in online scams, with losses related to those products exceeding half a million dollars in 2019.

Shoppers should “do their research before making an online purchase”, and if purchasing expensive goods, should only make payment after inspecting the product, Ms Rickard said.

“If you do think you have been scammed, contact your bank as soon as possible.”

Warning signs

Online shopping scams often use fake online stores hosted on websites or social media platforms including Facebook and Instagram.

These fake stores, many of which purport to sell luxury products at incredibly low prices, are set up to deceive online shoppers by closely mimicking the appearance of genuine online retailers.

Shoppers that make purchases through fake sites will typically receive nothing, or a poor-quality counterfeit product.

Scammers also pose as genuine sellers on classifieds websites, and may tell buyers that they are travelling and will have an agent deliver the product once they have paid.

Once a buyer makes payment they will not receive the product, and be unable to contact the seller.

Scamwatch says common warning signs for online scams include:

  • A product with an “unbelievably low” advertised price, or features that seem too good to be true
  • Lack of secure payment options
  • Requests to pay via direct bank transfer, wire service or cryptocurrency
  • A social media-based store that is very new and selling products at very low prices
  • An online store that offers little information about delivery and returns, privacy, terms and conditions of use, dispute resolution or contact details.

How to protect yourself while online shopping

Cyber security expert Aaron Bugal, a global solutions engineer at Sophos, urged shoppers to be cautious when making online purchases.

Mr Bugal’s five key safety tips for online shoppers are:

  • If it sounds too good to be true, it is too good to be true. When the price of things are drastically marked down or advertised as free, there’s usually a reason
  • Never fill in purchase details on a website that doesn’t use a secure (encrypted) connection. Don’t be fooled by padlock images on the webpage itself. Look for the padlock in your browser’s address bar – that’s how you know it’s encrypted
  • Don’t click on links in unsolicited emails. Those links could land you on a phishing website or a website that will infect you with malware
  • Watch out for sites that ask for way too much information, such as your card PIN. Remember that your card pin is not used for online purchases and therefore not required
  • Scrutinise your bank statements. Check your bank account transactions regularly for signs of fraud, particularly after making purchases online. If you discover payments that you can’t identify, notify your bank immediately.

For further information about scams, visit scamwatch.gov.au

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