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. Especially with all the concerning cybercrime events we’ve been seeing occur of late.
With that considered, we 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 these kinds of online incidents are precisely why it’s so important to keep an eye on your purchases on major sales dates like 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 shared.
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 in 2020, Luis Corrons, Security Evangelist at Avast antivirus, warned 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 kind of scams are happening in Australia?
“Scammers evolve quickly, and their tactics are becoming increasingly sophisticated and unscrupulous. There have been hundreds of reports to Scamwatch in the weeks after the recent high profile data breaches and that is expected to continue,” Deputy Chair Delia Rickard said in a statement.
“Cyber criminals have capitalised on the data breach by impersonating government departments and businesses to carry out identity theft and remote access scams.”
Per the ACCC, “If you think you have been scammed, contact your bank or financial institution immediately. If you have given personal information to a scammer contact IDCARE. Report scams to Scamwatch.”
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.
This article has been updated to reflect more recent details about online scams in Australia.