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Stay safe when shopping online at holiday time

This holiday season Australians can find ways to spot fake online stores, stay safe online with new gadgets and protect their personal data online.

Avoiding the crowds at busy shopping malls is just one of the reasons many of us prefer to shop online during the holiday season.

But be warned, scammers don’t take holidays! They rely on your busyness and letting your guard down when purchasing online. Scammers often set up legitimate-looking websites or social media stores to trick people into handing over their money or personal details.

Imagine making an online purchase and never receiving it. The scammer has your money but also likely your personal details which they could use for further harm.

Did you know? According to Scamwatch, last year Australians made 8,157 reports of online shopping scams, with losses of over $4.2 million! More than half of these reported losses were scams on popular online classified platforms such as Gumtree and Facebook Marketplace.

How do I stay safe?

Stay Smart Online has teamed up with the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s Scamwatch, the Office of the eSafety Commissioner and the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner to bring you tips and resources to help you stay safe online at holiday time.

1. First, know who you’re buying from

Watch out for fake online stores! Where possible, shop from well-known trusted brands and cross-check information on their website to make sure you’re dealing with the official seller and not a scammer trying to impersonate the brand.

  • Search reviews from other customers.
  • Read the fine print including warranty, refunds and complaints handling. Also check privacy policies to find out how your information will be used.
  • If the website looks suspicious and you're not confident about how they’ll use your information or that you’ll get what you pay for, don’t make the purchase.

2. Once you’ve decided to purchase, pay with a secure method

This holiday season, pay securely online

  • Never pay by direct bank deposits, money transfers or other unusual methods (such as Bitcoin), as you’re highly unlikely to get your money back if you’ve paid a scammer.
  • Instead, use secure payment methods like PayPal, BPay or your credit card – as there are often dispute resolution processes if things go pear-shaped.
    • If paying by PayPal, select the ‘payment for goods/services’ option. If a seller instructs you to make the payment ‘to friends and family’ rather than ‘payment for goods’ this violates PayPal’s policies and voids the buyer protections.
    • If using BPay, use a legitimate biller code and customer reference number, and don't pay by direct transfers to bank accounts.
  • Check to make sure it is a reputable site with a padlock symbol and ‘https’ at the start (not http).
  • Don’t click on a link received via SMS to pay – and never provide payment details over SMS.

3. Have you bought a tech gift? Know what to look out for and how to stay safe online

This holiday season, check the safety of tech gifts

  • Internet-connected toys, games and devices are usually at the top of children’s wish lists. While they can have great educational benefits, beware they may also expose your child to potential risks.
  • Some tech gifts may reveal your child’s personal details and location to outsiders and allow other people to contact your child online without you knowing.
  • The eSafety Gift Guide helps to inform parents and carers about what to look out for with popular tech gifts and provides practical advice on how to stay safe, including setting strong passwords, turning off location settings and limiting the amount of personal information shared.
  • Check out the eSafety Gift Guide before choosing tech gifts for children and young people this holiday season, see www.esafety.gov.au

4. Be aware of what personal information you share online

This holiday season, be aware of what you share online

  • If you’re signing up for a sales alert or loyalty program or creating an online shopping account, remember that your personal information is valuable and should be protected.
  • Breaches of your personal data including your financial information can have serious consequences, including identity theft.
  • The retail sector is now one of the top five sources of data breaches notified to the OAIC.
  • Phishing is a common cause of data breaches, so be on the alert for suspicious emails or texts these holidays.
  • Always use strong and unique passwords, watch out for phishing emails or texts, and be aware of what you share online this holiday season to keep your personal information safe.

What if I've been scammed?

If you think you’ve been scammed online there are steps you can take to limit the damage and protect yourself from further harm. Head to our Get Help page for advice and support.