Online shopping has always been popular, but the Covid-19 pandemic has further revolutionised the way in which we browse and make purchases. Many traditional bricks and mortar stores were forced to turn completely digital in order to retain their customer base through delivery and ‘click and collect’ options.
With the holiday season fast approaching, increasing numbers of people will be turning to online stores to complete their Christmas shopping list. Unfortunately, cybercriminals are also aware of this and will no doubt be trying to take advantage of unsuspecting customers in order to make a quick profit.
Being able to spot online scams is a great skill to have and luckily, there are many telltale signs that you may be dealing with a scammer rather than a genuine company.
1. Too good to be true?
Stumbling across a bargain often means that it’s your lucky day, however always be wary of deals that seem too good to be true. Whatever product you are purchasing, do your research and be aware of the standard price range. An expensive product for a low price is not always cause for concern, particularly around Christmas time when many shops offer sales and discounts, however you are well within your rights to be suspicious of any deal that sounds too good to be true.
2. Do they offer a full range of payment options?
Many scammers exploit their victims through the types of payment options that they offer. The scammer may insist on immediate payment, only offer wire or electronic funds transfer and not support PayPal and credit card transactions.
Your credit card details are valuable. Look for secure payment options and always ensure that you are doing everything that you can to protect your financial health when purchasing goods and services online.
3. Are you able to contact their customer service?
Every online store you do business with should have responsive customer service. You will need to contact them if you have any queries regarding your purchase or are having difficulties with delivery.
Just as you would not walk into a store that does not have shop assistants on hand to help, never make a purchase on an online store that doesn’t offer customer service — it is a dead scam giveaway. Scammers are unlikely to invest in creating fake customer service for their fake store so steer clear of any website that doesn’t have a live chat, responsive email address and contact phone number.
4. Do they have both a website and a social media presence?
Cybercriminals don’t really want to spend a lot of time creating their online scams — if they had that drive, they may as well spend it setting up a real store!
A lack of social media presence is often a trademark of a scam. A good Instagram account takes a lot of time and effort to run and scammers are unlikely to have the products or infrastructure to make their store look legitimate to social media users.
Conversely too, a store that operates solely on Facebook can also raise suspicions. Facebook is an excellent tool for customer engagement but does not really have the same capabilities as an e-commerce website. You should be wary of any company that relies solely on social media to sell their products without good reason.
5. Is the site secure?
Site security is a simple way to legitimise an online store. Check the URL of the website. If it begins with “https” instead of “http”, it means that the site is secured using an SSL certificate. SSL certificates secure data as it passes from your browser to the website’s server and to gain SSL certification, a company must go through a validation process.
Checking the website URL carefully is also important in order to avoid becoming a phishing victim — a type of cyberattack that involves the fraudulent party masquerading as a legitimate company. Cybercriminals who undertake these attacks often purchase domain names with very minor spelling variations to major e-commerce sites in the hope that unsuspecting victims will make fraudulent purchases.
What to do if you have been scammed
If you are a victim of a scam, there are several steps that you can take to mitigate the damage. If you have sent money to the scammer or believe that they might possess your financial details, contact your bank immediately and have them freeze your accounts.
If you believe the scammer may have been attempting to steal your identity, apply for a Commonwealth Victim’s Certificate. This will help support your claim that you are a victim of identity theft and can be used when trying to regain access to financial and personal accounts.
You should report the scam to the authorities; in Australia, it is best to contact Scamwatch (Australian Competition & Consumer Commission). If you have been a victim of a phishing attack or believe that the hacker was utilising advertising material and assets of a legitimate company, it is best to also reach out to that business to inform them so they can take appropriate action.
The holiday season is a busy time for everyone and the last thing that you want to be doing is dealing with the repercussions of an online scam. Keep your wits about you when shopping online this year and be sure to report any suspicious behaviour to the relevant authorities.
Bridget is a writer and editor, currently living in Melbourne. She is a copywriter for Newpath Web and loves working with words of all shapes and sizes. When not playing around with punctuation and grammar, she enjoys travelling and curating her Spotify playlists.