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Shopping safely online at holiday time

3 December 2019

Online classified platforms like Gumtree and Facebook marketplace are popular places to find a bargain – especially during the peak online shopping season.

Unfortunately, they’re also a popular avenue for scammers trying to steal your hard earned-cash. According to Scamwatch, already this year there have been 4,246 reports and over $2.3 million lost by Aussies to online shopping scams on classified platforms like these.

Tony’s story

35-year-old Tony, from Albury, got caught out after spotting what he thought was a genuine ad on Gumtree for a second-hand Canon digital camera. Looking at the pics of the camera, it was a great price at $310, and would’ve been the perfect gift for his father-in-law, an avid photographer. He confirmed by text message with the Melbourne-based trader that the item was still available and then transfered via a bank deposit the funds plus $20 postage.

By the end of the week, Tony hadn’t received the item and followed up with the phone number listed on the ad, leaving numerous voicemails and sending text messages. After a further week of no responses and the ad disappearing on Gumtree, Tony came to the sad realisation he had been scammed. As he had paid by bank transfer as well, his bank was unable to help him recover his funds.

Protect yourself from online shopping scams

Following his experience, Tony did some research and discovered that one of the big tip-offs that an online shopping site or ad is a scam is the method of payment. This can include direct bank deposits, where you’re unlikely to get your money back if you’ve paid a scammer.

So what could Tony have done to pay securely online and avoid being scammed? The Australian Cyber Security Centre (ACSC) recommends the following tips when shopping online:

  • Know who you’re buying from. Stick to well-known, trusted brands and search reviews of the seller from other customers.
  • Don’t 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.
  • If you’re purchasing over classified websites, wherever possible, meet up with your seller to inspect the item before you pay and pay them in person.
  • Familiarise yourself with the payment policies of the website you’re using, such as Gumtree. If you’re using PayPal as a payment method, visit PayPal’s website for advice on using PayPal to pay for Gumtree purchases.
  • Don’t click on a link received via SMS or email to pay – and never provide payment details, such as your credit card number, over SMS or email. Again, there are no measures in place to protect yourself and get your money back if you’re handing over your payment details outside of official, secure payment sites.
  • Don’t do any financial transactions when connected to public Wi-Fi, as cybercriminals can easily intercept these networks.

It’s important not to let your guard down post-Christmas either, with scammers using Boxing Day and New Year sales as further opportunities to try and steal your money and personal details, as more people prefer to shop from home.The ACSC’s 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.  

Head to www.staysmartonline.gov.au/onlineshopping for tips on how to spot fake online stores, stay safe online with new gadgets and protect your personal data when shopping online this holiday season.

To stay up to date with the latest online threats and how to manage them, sign up to our free email Alert Service www.staysmartonline.gov.au/alert-service and follow us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/staysmartonline 

Where to get help

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.