Scamwatch is warning Christmas shoppers to be cautious when looking online for gifts. During and after Christmas Scamwatch experiences an increase in reports of fake online sellers looking to cash in on the festive season shopping spree.
This year, scammers are using labels like Pandora and Michael Kors to trick consumers who are looking online to find designer items at a cheaper price.
Scammers set up fake websites that look just like genuine online stores. They copy websites of legitimate companies and designer labels and may even pretend to be Australian-based by using a ‘.com.au’ domain.
The biggest tip-off that a website is a scam is the way they ask for payment. Scammers often ask you to pay by wire transfer, pre-loaded debit cards or even bitcoins. These payment methods are not secure and are rarely used by legitimate retailers. If you send your money this way, it’s just like sending cash - you’re unlikely to receive the goods or get your money back.
If you’re shopping online this Christmas, do your research. Read reviews or comments and look out for irregular payment methods.
How these scams work
- You receive an unsolicited email or text message advertising products at an unbelievably low price.
- The email or text message links to a website that looks legitimate.
- The scammer insists on immediate payment and asks you to buy a debit card, send the money by wire transfer or even pay for the goods using bitcoins.
- Once payment is made you do not receive the product and any attempt to contact the seller is useless.
- When shopping online, find out exactly who you are dealing with. If it is an Australian company, you are generally in a better position to sort out the problem if something goes wrong.
- Check for external user reviews about the website. If someone has had a bad experience they are likely to have written about it somewhere.
- Never send money or give credit card or online account details to anyone you don’t know or trust.
- When making online payments, only pay for items using a secure payment service—look for a URL starting with ‘https’ and a closed padlock symbol, or a payment provider such as PayPal.
- Avoid any arrangement that asks for up-front payment via money order, wire transfer, international funds transfer, pre-loaded card or electronic currency. It is rare to recover money sent this way.
- Think twice before using virtual currencies such as bitcoin—they do not have the same protections as other transaction methods so you can’t get your money back once you send it.
- Check the website's refund or returns policy, and if there is a complaint or dispute handling processes in case something goes wrong.
- Consider using an 'escrow' service if you're buying from an online auction. Escrow services will only release your payment to the trader or seller when you've confirmed that the product has arrived and is what you paid for. Only use a reputable escrow service—online auction sites may provide a list of recommended providers.
- When buying from an online classifieds website, only pay when you have physically inspected or received the goods. If you have any doubts about the product or the person selling it, don’t go ahead with the deal.
You can report scams to the ACCC via the Scamwatch report a scam page.