While major online sales events offer a pretty incredible chance for you to grab yourself a bargain (or 15) there is also a more sinister side to these dates that we have to be wary of. Unfortunately, online scams are threats that pop up along with those bargains we adore, so it’s worth clueing ourselves up on how to stay safe when shopping online (and spending time on the internet, in general).
I know it’s not fun, but it’s worth chatting about just to avoid any nasty surprises. After all, as the ACCC shares, the past year has been a particularly awful time for online scams.
It has shared in a report on scams across 2020 that “Australians lost over $850 million to scams and made 444,164 scam reports in total to Scamwatch, ReportCyber, other government agencies, banks and payment platforms in 2020″.
I spoke with some industry experts and did a deep dive on the ACCC to get some insights.
Tim Falinski, Managing Director, Consumer, APAC, of cybersecurity software company Trend Micro explained that this degree of incidents online is precisely why it’s so important to keep an eye on your purchases on major sales dates like Single’s Day, Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and even Boxing Day.
“…cybercriminals see major sales such as Click Frenzy and Black Friday as a goldmine of opportunity to get consumers to hand over their personal or financial information and have a number of tricks up their sleeves to do so,” he continued.
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How do online scams work?
The thrill of these sales, Falinski explained, is that they’re short-lived and you need to jump on deals quickly. Unfortunately, this is the ideal setup for an online sales scam.
“This can be done through fake websites or ‘phishing’ emails or text messages – which usually mimic a legitimate organisation and will try to entice the recipient into clicking a URL link,” Falinski said.
This tricks people into unintentionally offering up “sensitive personal data or downloading malware onto their device.”
In a statement on online scams, Luis Corrons, Security Evangelist at Avast antivirus warned last year that “the internet is filled with amazing offers around this time of the year and people are overwhelmed by trying to catch the best products. As a result, they spend less time researching the seller, which is where cybercriminals can take advantage.”
Like Falinski, Corrons advised that shoppers watch out for “phishing scam emails offering deals that persuade you to click a link or download an attachment”.
These, he warned, have the potential to be “malware like ransomware that holds your files hostage until you pay a ransom”, or links could “even lead you to a fake website to get you to complete an actual payment to receive the deal,” he said.
How can you avoid a nasty surprise?
First up, the ACCC has a whole bunch of information listed online to help you navigate dodgy cyber activity. They advise that you stick to businesses with a solid reputation; read terms and conditions on sales; keep your anti-virus software updated and check out a few retailers before pressing ‘purchase’.
They also suggest you keep hold of any relevant documents, like proof of purchase. And if ever you do not receive an item you’ve paid for by credit card, contact your bank.
“For phishing scams, it’s important to always scan the email or SMS for things that don’t look right – whether it’s a logo that doesn’t seem legitimate, a dodgy URL link or email address that isn’t associated with the company the email is meant to be from, or spelling and grammar mistakes.
“Other tips include looking out for the padlock symbol in the browser address bar to verify the legitimacy of a brand’s website, using strong and unique passwords when signing up to sites such as Click Frenzy, and keeping a close eye on your bank transactions to avoid any unauthorised transactions and stop scammers in their tracks.”
Corrons shared that it’s best to avoid storing your payment details anywhere online.
“You want to share, save, and store as little personal info as possible on the internet,” he said.
He also suggested using third-party payment options like PayPal, Apple Pay and Google Pay, sticking to a VPN to remain anonymous when shopping, and comparing prices.
“If your item is drastically lower than the others, you need to wonder why. If a deal seems too good to be true, it probably is.”
What are some of the most common scams in Australia?
For Scam Awareness Week (November 8 – 12, 2021), the ACCC shared a list of consumer stories, helpful resources to check out and even a bingo card – yep! – listing out common scams. Depressing, but useful?
It lists everything from travel prize scams to puppy scams – highlighting just how many ways people can find themselves in hot water online. The three scams that hit Aussies hardest in 2020, however, were:
- Investment scams – $328 million lost
The ACC report read:
It appears to be increasingly difficult for people to identify legitimate investment opportunities from scams. Scammers no longer just rely on professional looking websites. They now have the ability to contact people through phone, apps, social media and other means.
- Romance scams – $131 million lost
The ACC report read:
Romance baiting was a new type of scam that emerged in 2020 to target sections of the population which in the past have not typically suffered high losses to investment scams. Victims are contacted on a dating app, typically moved off the app and then lured into an investment scam, often involving cryptocurrency. People aged 25 to 34 years lost the most money ($7.3 million) to romance baiting in 2020.
- Business email compromise (payment redirection scams) – $128 million lost
The ACC report read:
Scammers trick people into changing payment details to divert money, usually by impersonating the intended recipient of a payment
Ultimately, if anything feels off to you, avoid it. Chances are you’ll have a positive shopping experience, but it never hurts to take a few precautions, people.
Now, go and enjoy your sales, safely. Here are a few of our favourite Aussie bargains at the moment, in fact.
This article has been updated to reflect more recent details about online scams in Australia.