Love it or dread it, we’re knee deep in the pre-Christmas rush. For the more organised, gift lists have been smugly ticked off, while the rest of us are, well… not exactly there yet. Lucky, we live in an age where we can shop at any time of the day, any day of the week.
But with great power comes great responsibility.
Australia Post’s 2019 eCommerce industry report, the five weeks from 11 November to 15 December accounted for almost 15% of all online shopping transactions in 2018. This makes the festive season a hotspot for scammers looking to take advantage of increased online spending.
In this guide, we’ll look at how to spot the common scams that pop up around Christmas, and where to go for help when things don’t go as planned. The scams may be seasonal, but the rules for being a savvy online shopper remain the same all year round.
You receive a text, call or email from a courier service such as Australia Post or Fed Ex saying you have ‘missed a delivery’, so you’ll need to pay a fee to have the parcel redelivered or held in their warehouse.
Before you start wondering which package they could be referring to, legitimate courier services put a notice in your letterbox when they can’t deliver a parcel—they
don’t ask you to pay for it to be redelivered or held in their warehouse.
But wait, there’s more…
Another version of this scam involves an email or text sent to you by a courier service, like Australia Post, asking you to click the link in the message to verify your shipping address. It then takes you to a fake site where it asks for your personal information.
The tricky thing about the text message is it can appear in the same conversation thread as other messages from the same legitimate courier service. So, it’s easy to mistake it for a legitimate message—in fact, the scammers are counting on it.
Stay on the safer side
If you’re expecting a parcel to be delivered, use the tracking number provided in your confirmation email to locate its whereabouts.
If you’re unsure about the message you’ve received, do an internet search for the number of the courier service and call them directly. Don’t use the phone number provided in the message or given to you on the call.
Don’t click on links or download files, especially when the file name ends in .exe or .zip. You risk downloading malware or a virus to your computer.
Australia Post will
never ask you to click on a link to print off a label to redeem your package or call you to ask for personal information such as banking or credit card details.
2. Pet scams
Scammers are known to use sites like Gumtree or Facebook to advertise purebred puppies or kittens at a very discounted price, or even for free. If you’re in the market for a new pet, avoid the heartbreak and get to know the tell-tale signs such as:
The seller is based interstate or overseas and asks you to pay for transport costs upfront.
There’s always a story involved. For example, they say they’re only giving the pet away because they had to move interstate for work and cannot give the pet the love it needs [insert rest of long-winded sob story here].
They usually ignore key questions and avoid talking over the phone. They prefer to communicate via email or text.
If in doubt, don’t be afraid to ask for a copy of the animal’s vet and registration details, or the seller’s breeder membership number and check them against the breed’s association or club.
You could go one step further and play them at their own game and tell them you’ll be travelling to their location and would like to arrange to meet the animal in question. Don’t be surprised if they come up with 101 excuses not to meet you or they stop communicating altogether.
Remember, you can also find wonderful, temperament-tested, pure-bred and Heinz-variety pets in rescue organisations such as the RSPCA or Animal Welfare League. By adopting your new best friend, you’ll be helping to support these worthwhile charities at the same time.
3. Fake shopping websites
Fake shopping websites can sometimes be a little tricky to spot. The method of payment is normally the best give-away, but there are several other factors you should also look at. If in doubt, sometimes the best approach is to walk away, but try these first.
Start with the web address. Is the brand name spelt correctly? Are there any extra letters or characters that shouldn’t be there? Does the address include words like discounted, offers, or sale? For example, websites like raybanoffers.com or cheapiphones.com should raise alarm bells.
Heavily discounted prices. It’s very likely the product is fake, second-hand or doesn’t exist at all. The old adage says it all: if it’s too good to be true, it probably is.
Method of payment. Legitimate shopping sites don’t ask for payment via bank transfer, Bitcoin, money order or pre-loaded money cards like iTunes gift cards. The safest way to pay for goods online is via PayPal or credit card, because they can offer extra protection and make it easier to get your money back.
Know who you’re buying from. Take the time to read through the site. Read the About Us section—are there spelling or grammar mistakes? Is there a physical address and phone number? Try calling it to see who answers (if it’s an Australian number). Think twice if the site only includes a form or an email address as a way of getting in touch.
Look for detailed terms and conditions. Legitimate sites have detailed information on shipping and returns. For example, the site should be clear on how long you have to return an item, who pays for shipping, and whether you’re entitled to a full refund or store credit.
Check the reviews. Type the name of the online store or web address into Google to check for other people’s experiences. If it’s a scam, it’s likely to show up in the reviews. Speaking of which, the higher the number of reviewers the better. For example, a 4-star rating from 1,345 people is better than a 5-star rating from 26 people.
Where to go for help
If things don’t go as planned when you buy something online, there are steps you can take to get help.
If you think your identity has been compromised, you can contact iDCare at idcare.org or on 1300 432 273. They have counsellors you can speak to for advice, or you can try their helpful cyber first aid kit.
For any online purchase disputes, if you can, try to resolve the problem with the online retailer first.
Contact your bank immediately to stop any future payments or ask to have payments reversed. Report the problem to PayPal if that’s how you paid — they may be able to investigate the dispute on your behalf.
Report the scam to Scamwatch to help warn the community.