Australian commission warns shoppers of online scams

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online shopping
Amateur trader Yan Qin checks her smartphone for stock reports in New York, December 7, 2010. Reuters/Shannon Stapleton

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) issues a warning to online shoppers against fake online stores. According to ACCC’s Scamwatch data, over $150,000 in total had already been taken by scammers this year.

The authority said it already received 1,000 reports of online shopping scams in 2017 alone. ACCC, which promotes fair trade in markets, said scammers masquerade themselves as legitimate online retailers and are presenting branded items at unbelievably low prices, decent-looking websites and responsive customer service channels to lure people who shop online.

Young Australians aged between 18 and 24 are usually the victims of online scams based on ACCC statistics. The data also revealed that nearly one in every two people who contacted the Scamwatch service lost money. Fashion, cosmetics and pets are the most common products being offered on fake sites.

ACCC Deputy Chair Delia Rickard says she thinks scammers are getting very sophisticated nowadays.  "I was shocked to see the numbers are going way, way up, she exclaimed.

Rickard shared that online scammers are even using stolen logos and ".com.au" domain name to make their websites appear legitimate. But she said the only thing that these websites sell is false hope. She advised that if a website is asking for payment via money order, pre-loaded money card, wire transfer or gift cards, that should serve as a hint for consumers to be extra careful.

A man named Ben Harley had been one of the victims of online scams. He wanted to have a Weber barbecue and was buoyed to find a deal that offers $200 discount. He sent his payment, only to find out that the website where he’s making the purchase, Outdoor Living Warehouse, was a scam. "This will probably be the last time I buy a high-dollar value product online," Stuff quotes Harley.

In order to avoid online scams, ACCC suggests that online shoppers must do some research on a website before sending in payments and avoid setting up an arrangement with a stranger asking for upfront payment via money order, wire transfer, international funds transfer, pre-loaded card or electronic currency. When making payments online, shoppers are advised to make use of a secure payment service, a URL starting with https and a closed padlock symbol. PayPal is safe to use as a means of payment.

Consumers can report cases of online scams to ACCC through Scamwatch’s report a scam page. Australians can also make a general enquiry through the ACCC site.