Scammers target online shoppers. Here’s how to avoid getting caught

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When Alison Barnes opened an email this week claiming to be from Australia Post, she realized everything was “a little fishy”.

The email stated that a package for her was waiting for her at a local distribution center and prompted her to click a link to “start discussion” on delivery terms.

But when Alison, 51, of the Blue Mountains of New South Wales, noticed that the sender was “Australian Post” rather than “Australia Post”, alarm bells started ringing.

She deleted the email, narrowly avoiding a popular scam that was going around the world.

Purchase and delivery scams increase during COVID

Seems familiar?

“We have certainly seen an increase in online shopping scams” since the onset of COVID and lockdowns, said Delia Rickard, vice chairman of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC).

Australians lost a record amount to scams – more than $ 851 million – in 2020, as crooks took advantage of the pandemic and the associated increase in online shopping, according to the ACCC.

Shopping scams alone accounted for over $ 62.1 million in losses last year – although in reality the losses are likely much higher “because most victims don’t report these scams.” explains Ms. Rickard.

The most common victims of these scams are women and people under 35, she adds.

How do these scams work?

The ACCC has also witnessed a number of these postal mail scams, where the scammer masquerades as Australia Post, FedEx, another delivery company or buying platforms such as Amazon, eBay or Bunnings.

These scams usually come in the form of an unsolicited communication in the form of an email or text message, according to Aaron Bugal, a Melbourne-based cybersecurity specialist.

“It will indicate that there was either a package that was attempted delivery, or there was missing information [that needs to be provided] before the delivery can be effected efficiently, ”says Bugal.

Fraudulent email received by Alison Barnes
Part of the fraudulent email received by Alison Barnes.(

Provided: Alison Barnes

)

Fraudulent emails can use the logos or colors associated with those companies, or links to cloned websites, he adds.

“The crooks just take pot shots, send messages hoping that [the recipients] ordered something and it sounds familiar, ”he says.

These parcel post scams typically invite victims to click on a link, which tends to lead to fraudulent “interactive parcel management systems” designed to steal personal and financial information.

“Usually they’re looking to build a record of who clicks on those links,” says Bugal.

The crooks hope that you will give them some personal information, including your first and last name, full address, phone number, so that they can use that information to hack your online accounts.

Other shopping scams involve asking for money for advertised items that don’t actually exist.

In general, these are items that have become more in demand since the start of the pandemic – like puppies, trailers, or shipping containers meant to be used as grandma’s apartments or backyard offices, explains. Mrs. Rickard.

Some scammers will also advertise a high-end product but send a low-quality version. Or send a completely different item “where you order something expensive and you get a pair of socks or a baseball cap,” Ms. Rickard explains.

Some (but not all) will ask for payment

Some scammers will ask for payment – and this is especially common with puppies and vehicles, which are often advertised on popular forums like Facebook Marketplace and Gumtree, Ms. Rickard explains.

“There will be an initial price for the puppy, around $ 7,000 or $ 8,000, and then they will say they need the money for insuring the puppy’s vaccinations, which will be an additional cost,” he says. she.

“Then they will say, ‘due to the border closures there are additional transport costs.’ We’ve even seen people pay more for COVID secure crates for dogs. “

The crooks also pose as military men who have to sell their cars cheaply due to impending deployment: “And they usually say they’re in Darwin or something, so you can’t come and see the car, ”Ms. Rickard explains. .

Some parcel post scammers will also demand payment, claiming that a package is being held and that a small fee must be paid to release it from a detention center, for example.

“Then they ask you for your credit card details, and inevitably, when that person checks their bank account later, they will inevitably find a much higher amount charged,” says Rickard.

Woman in sweater looking worriedly at laptop
An unsolicited e-mail, call or text requesting payment is a red flag. But not all crooks ask for payment or credit card details, experts say.(

Pexels: Pavel Danilyuk

)

But many crooks won’t ask for payment at all, says Bugal, because they may find that asking for money “sounds too much of a wake-up call for most of us.”

Instead, some crooks in particular may prefer to steal your identity and then use your online identity to log into your bank account; access your Amazon account to make fraudulent purchases; or hack into social media accounts, he explains.

Ripping off victims in this roundabout way can make reporting and stopping more difficult, he adds.

“If your Amazon account is supported, there are a lot of steps you need to go through as a victim” to report and regain access to your account, he says.

How to avoid shopping and delivery scams

Do not click on links in unsolicited communications you receive

Instead, “go to your trust portal that you used to buy things and ask your questions from there,” says Mr Bugal.

Portrait of Aaron Bugal
Cyber ​​security expert Aaron Bugal suggests always setting up accounts with online shopping sites, rather than checking out as a “guest,” and being wary of any unsolicited contact via email, text or telephone.(

Provided: Sophos

)

Watch out for bad grammar or fonts that don’t look correct

Some scammers are very sophisticated and convincing, and may appear to be texting or emailing like Australia Post or some other legitimate sounding sender, says Bugal.

Some shopping crooks also run professional looking websites for their bogus businesses, like a puppy breeding business.

But some still have typos, if you look closely enough. For example, Ms. Rickard describes a victim who understood he was dealing with a puppy scammer, when he referred to “RSCPA” instead of “RSPCA” in some documents.

Search online for clues and reviews

If the price looks unbelievably good, that’s a red flag.

Ms Rickard says you can tell if a seller is shady by trying a reverse Google image search – for example, to see if the photo of that puppy or apartment was taken from an image website. stock or a legitimate breeder abroad.

“If this is a new seller, it pays to be extra careful,” adds Ms. Rickard.

“And it’s usually a good idea to google the seller’s name” in case other victims have fallen victim to a scammer using that identity and reported it somewhere online.

Avoid checking in as a guest

“If you plan to make even one-time purchases online, be sure to set up accounts with vendors,” says Bugal. This will make it easier if you need to report issues with your order later.

Report scammers

You can report the scams to ACCC’s SCAMwatch or Stay Smart Online – and your bank, if you’ve lost money to the scam.

You can also report a suspicious email or text message that appears to be from Australia Post to [email protected]

Even if you don’t get your money back, “reporting is helpful because it helps everyone” who might be saved from a similar scam in the future, Mr Bugal says.

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