Online scams: ‘Cloning’ on the rise in Australia, data expert warns

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A man types on a computer keyboard Reuters/Kacper Pempel

Australian consumers and business owners are urged to be careful when using the internet for financial reasons as scammers become more sophisticated than ever. The cost of cybercrime has surged past $1 billion per year, data experts have warned.

The act of cloning websites has opened a new level of hacking. EC Integrators managing director Emy Carr has confirmed that cloning is on the rise here.

Local small businesses are said to be the most vulnerable. Up to 61 percent of data breaches in the last year occur in Australian businesses with fewer than 1,000 employees.

Carr warned that Aussie businesses are not taking the necessary steps to properly protect customers. She argued that a number of small businesses feel they do not have the necessary budget for a cybersecurity and data management plan.

Phishing is popular in the previous years, but recent ACCC figures now suggest that scammers have moved away from the largely unsuccessful scam, which had conversion (success) rates of around 1 percent, in favour of more believable online shopping scams, which had a conversion rate of more than 50 percent. ACCC deputy chair Delia Rickard said there has been an increase in the reporting of website cloning.

Cloned websites, she said, look real and more sophisticated. They used to offer discounts that were too good to be true, but they have become more realistic now. The elderly are the target of most scams, but the main victims of online shopping are 18 to 24-year-olds as they are used to purchasing everything online.

 It is relatively easy for criminals to clone a site. There are even step-by-step guides available on the internet.

Above Benchmark founder Jen Wells was a victim of the cloning scam. She said she did not have any idea that people could scrape an entire site and pass it off as their own.

“The cloned site was paid for with Bitcoin, so it’s very difficult to find who did this,” reports Wells as saying. She added that the case was reported and that the fake site was shut down, but they were up and running again after a few days.

Rickard warned that it is hard to recognise a scam, but there are things an online shopper can do to ensure they are on a legit site. One of these is by taking a close look at the URL.

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