Consumers are being warned to watch out for scam websites impersonating high-profile Australian retailers when shopping online this Black Friday, Cyber Monday sale weekend (24-27 November 2023).
The National Anti-Scam Centre has detected a concerning increase in the number of reports of fake websites that look like genuine online retail stores belonging to many big-name, high street brands.
So far this year, there have been 2,760 reports of fake online stores, resulting in losses of more than half a million dollars. In total, online shopping scams cost Australians over $6.2 million, between 1 January and 30 September, 2023.
The consumer warning comes ahead of the Black Friday, Cyber Monday sales weekend, during which shoppers are tipped to spend a reported $6.36 billion.
“Scammers are opportunistic criminals who will try to take advantage of people doing their Christmas shopping online during the upcoming Black Friday and Cyber Monday period,” ACCC Deputy Chair Catriona Lowe said.
“We have seen an alarming increase in reports of fake online shopping website scams, which use the latest technology to look like genuine, well-known Australian fashion and footwear labels.”
“A recent, disturbing development is that scammers are paying for their fake websites to appear at the top of your internet search. This means you can’t necessarily trust the first listing you see,” Ms Lowe said.
“As an alternative, consumers may wish to familiarise themselves with the site addresses of their favourite brands and navigate there directly or scroll down the search results to ensure they find the real site.”
“Consumers should also be aware that scammers are using social media platforms to set up bogus stores and to advertise their fake websites,” Ms Lowe said.
The National Anti-Scam Centre has been working with retailers to disrupt scam activity. It has also published advice for businesses impacted by scammers impersonating them.
“As scammers have been primarily targeting fashion and shoe retail brands, we have focused our disruption efforts on this space, helping retailers remove a number of fake websites,” Ms Lowe said.
“We commend those retailers who have taken proactive steps to warn their customers about scam websites impersonating their brands.”
Scams Awareness Week
The fake retail website scam is just one type of impersonation scam the National Anti-Scam Centre is warning about this Scams Awareness Week (27 November – 1 December 2023).
In 2023, impersonation scams accounted for more than 70% of the 234,672 reports to Scamwatch. There are many types of impersonation scams, spanning everything from text messages impersonating banks to job advertisements impersonating high-profile recruitment agencies and companies.
The top three most reported impersonation scams were road toll scams (19,141 reports), Australian Government impersonation scams (17,770 reports) and “Hi Mum” family impersonation scams (9,307 reports). The impersonation scams with the highest losses were imposter bond scams ($35 million lost), business email compromise scams ($14 million lost) and bank impersonation scams ($11 million lost).
“Impersonation scams have robbed Australians of $92 million this year,” Ms Lowe said.
“That’s why, during Scams Awareness Week, we are encouraging consumers to ask themselves if they really know who they are communicating with, whether it be online or by text, phone or email. Could you be speaking with a scammer?”
“If you are shopping online, search for independent reviews to check if it’s real and never pay by direct bank deposit, money transfers or digital currencies such as Bitcoin. You should pay by PayPal or credit card. You may want to keep a second credit card with a low credit limit just for online shopping,” Ms Lowe said.
Further information and resources on Scams Awareness Week are available here.
How fake retail website scams work
- Scammers use the latest technology to set up fake retail websites that look like genuine online retail stores. They may use sophisticated designs and layouts, possibly stolen logos, and even a ‘.com.au’ domain name and stolen Australian Business Number (ABN).
- Many of these websites offer luxury items such as popular brands of clothing, jewellery and electronics at very low prices. Sometimes you will receive the item you paid for but they will be fake, other times you will receive nothing at all.
- Scammers also set up fake online stores on social media platforms. They open the store for a short time, often selling fake branded clothing or jewellery. After making a number of sales, the stores disappear. They also use social media to advertise their fake website, so do not trust a site just because you have seen it advertised or shared on social media. The best way to detect a fake trader or social media online shopping scam is to search for independent reviews before purchasing.
- Watch out for websites or sellers advertising at very low prices, often lower than comparable to identical items on other websites. Slow down and consider whether a sale is too good to be true.
- You can report sponsored ads to Google in ‘My Ad Centre’. This can be accessed by clicking on the three stacked dots to the right of the sponsored ad.
- Always access websites via an independent search rather than through links in emails, SMS or social media. Use apps from official app stores where available.
- Learn how to shop online securely visit: https://www.cyber.gov.au/protect-yourself/staying-secure-online/shopping-and-banking-online/online-shopping Use secure devices, avoid public wifi and ensure that you set up multi factor authentication.
- Never pay by direct bank deposit, money transfers or digital currencies such as Bitcoin as you won’t be able to get your money back. You should pay by PayPal or credit card. You may want to keep a second credit card with a low credit limit just for online shopping.
Top tips for avoiding scams
STOP – Don’t feel pressured to act on a deal that is only offered for a short time. Scammers will try to make you feel like you have to act quickly. Don’t rush to act. Take your time to consider if the sale item is real.
THINK – Ask yourself could the website or sale item be fake? Scammers are impersonating trusted brands. Search for independent reviews or contact the retailer using contact information you source independently, so you can verify the deal is real.
PROTECT – Act quickly if something feels wrong. Contact your bank immediately if you have lost money to a scammer. Seek help from IDCARE and report to Scamwatch.