Dec 08, 2022

Avoiding scams while shopping online this Christmas

08_12_22 scams

As Christmas time approaches, the internet becomes the best place to discover and buy a plethora of gifts for the ones you love. However, it is also a time to watch out for dangerous holiday scams older Australians can be particularly vulnerable too.

The Australian Federal Police is anticipating a surge in delivery scams over the Christmas shopping period, where scammers use legitimate-looking text messages to trick people into handing over personal details which are then sold.

Scams and data breaches have already been circling news outlets with companies like Optus and Medibank reporting their client’s sensitive data had been hacked and held at ransom by scammers. 

With so much variety, it can be hard to notice if a website you are buying on is safe. There are some internet dangers to keep in mind when surfing the web.

But scams can happen to anyone, particularly online, and it is important to know how to keep yourself safe while browsing the internet this holiday season. 

According to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), this year Australians have reported losses of more than $14.8 million to online shopping to Scamwatch, the ACCC’s dedicated organisation for people to report and learn about scams. 

About 27% of those reports were made by people aged 65 and over, so it is important you know how to recognise a scam and what to do if you think you have provided information to a scammer. 

If it’s too good to be true, it probably is 

When surfing the internet, it is common to find the same product, service or experience at varying prices on different websites – an advantage when attempting to compare prices and get the most out of your money.

But if something looks unreasonably cheap, that could be a sign that the website or seller is not legitimate and could be a scam to obtain your financial details. 

Scamwatch recommended taking extra care this holiday period when purchasing big and expensive items online such as electrical goods, gaming consoles and toys. If purchased from an illegitimate website, these items may not work or may not even arrive at all.

eSafety Commissioner, Julie Inman Grant, said older people should keep their eyes open and be wary of deals that seem too good to be true while looking for gifts online. 

“Many of us are spending more time and money online buying gifts and arranging travel in the lead-up to the festive season… [and] scammers are becoming more sophisticated in the way they target potential victims and older Australians can be particularly vulnerable,” he said.

“The best way to defeat scammers is by equipping all Australians with the skills to recognise this predatory online behaviour before it’s too late, by raising awareness of the dangers and educating people about how to avoid them.”

When searching websites, it is worth trying to find out how new the website is and whether they have sold many things before. Some websites and products are advertised through social media platforms, but it is wise to do some research first before handing over your card details.

Refer to comments from other sellers or see if there are any reviews available online for extra security, but beware that scammers can also write fake positive reviews for their own websites or products. 

Particularly on social media, there is often a profile attached to a comment, so you can click on their profile and see whether they seem like a legitimate person or a fake account that was made for the purpose of posting fake reviews.

Some common traits of online scams include:

  • Offering you a prize or saying “you got lucky” to obtain bank account details 
  • Threatening to lock your account if you don’t give them personal information to “verify” your identity
  • Complex or different looking website addresses including random letters or punctuation, often missing “https” in the URL of the site
  • Misspellings, fuzzy images or low-resolution pictures and logos on a website
  • Poor or incorrect English or grammar
  • Asking you to hold some money for them in your bank account or offering goods or services that may never be delivered 
  • Professional-appearing emails, websites or call centre staff to convince you that the offer or their business is genuine. They also often pretend to be an organisation like a charity, Centrelink, Australia Post or another service you may use or want to help

Only buy via a secure payment option

Online shopping isn’t limited to new goods and services, you may be looking at second-hand items on a digital marketplace such as Gumtree or Facebook Marketplace.

Buying second-hand is very common and often you can find a unique or one-of gift for someone, but it is important to be cautious when dealing with sellers.

Many people report losing money after communicating with a scammer over email to discuss a purchase of a second-hand good.

They often will try to get you to pay via internet banking, money wiring, money orders, pre-loaded gift cards, or cryptocurrency.

If you do send money directly to a scammer, it is rare to be able to get it back, so it is important to always conduct your transaction through a secure platform like PayPal, where you have the ability to dispute a charge. 

What to do if you have been scammed

Being scammed can happen to anyone, so you shouldn’t feel embarrassed or ashamed if you have been involved in one.

There are some things to do to protect yourself and your finances if you have been scammed, such as: 

  • Stop all communication with the scammer and ignoring any new messages or attempts to contact you. You can block their number or email address on your device
  • Contact your bank or financial institution or visit a branch as soon as possible to notify them and change the passwords for all your accounts if you have handed over any personal information to the scammer
  • Contact the platform you were scammed on to notify them of your circumstances 
  • Make a report to your local consumer affairs agency, Australian Cyber Security Centre, or the Scamwatch website to help warn others
  • If a scammer threatens you, take evidence of this to your local police. If you feel that you are in immediate danger from the scammer, call Triple Zero (000)
  • Tell your friends and family
  • If the scam involves the theft of your identity, contact IDCARE as they can help you deal with the consequences of identity theft

If you have been contacted by a scammer but have not responded you don’t need to worry and you should just delete or ignore any messages. You can also report these attempts to Scamwatch.

The eSafety Commission also has a suite of resources and courses on its website to help older people improve their skills and confidence to navigate the internet and how to identify and report scams while online shopping. 

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