Fraud, Scams & Online safety
October 3, 2023
Crime Prevention
How to avoid fake sellers and shop safely online

How to avoid fake sellers and shop safely online

When you shop online try to stick to known, trusted sellers that have good customer reviews. If it’s someone new, take time to do a few checks to ensure they’re genuine.

Today, it almost feels like the online shopping world has been carefully curated for each of us. And in some way, it’s true. Advertisers and social media platforms know so much about us, that it feels like they’re sometimes listening in.

While online shopping is fun, easy, and super accessible, in the last few years, there’s been a huge amount of fake retail websites that offer products that look enviably good and offering them at suspiciously cheap prices. Scammers love the ease of online shopping too, and they’re willing to go to great lengths to get you to checkout.

Online stores: real or fake?

Shopping online is fun, especially when you can do it at home on the couch! It’s important to understand the difference between a legitimate shopping experience, and one designed to scam you out of your money.

Scammers will set up fake websites that look like genuine online retail stores. Be cautious of sites offering unbelievably low prices, huge discounts, missing privacy policies or refund information, or limited payment options. 

Buying things online is easy and convenient, but some sellers are just out to rip you off. Here are some simple ways to find the genuine sellers and spoke the fakes. 

Spot fake sellers

  1. Double check the web address for the store – eg: Lego’s URL includes
  2. Make sure the store has a refund policy and a privacy policy.
  3. Confirm that the website lists a street address and phone number for the business, then check these against Google maps, Google business listings and online phone directories. Do they have valid contact information? If the only way you can contact the company is through a form, then this is a red flag.
  4. Look to see if the store website is secure. In the browser (URL) bar, there should be a closed padlock symbol and the web address should start with “https”.
  5. If it’s an Australian business, the website should list their ABN which you can easily look up on the Australian Business Register.
  6. If you haven’t shopped from the store before, google the business’s name and search sites like Product Review, Trustpilot and Google to see if the business has genuine customer reviews. Don’t be fooled by professional photography or consumer reviews on their website. These can be copied from other sites.

Online ads

  • Be wary of online ads that offer huge discounts for popular brands. They often send a very poor-quality version of the item you’ve been coveting.
  • Don’t signup for any limited time only free trial offers, without researching the company online and thoroughly reading the terms and conditions so you know what you’re agreeing to. 
  • Avoid clicking on sales ads in your social media feed from companies you don’t know – even if what they’re selling looks like an awesome bargain. Scammers have been know to use these to get your credit card information. 
  • Before buying anything from a social media ad, do a quick online search. Google the website name with the words “complaints”, “reviews” and “scam” to see what other customers are saying. 

Online marketplaces

Facebook Marketplace has boomed in popularity. And Gumtree continues to host a wonderful array of second-hand items you can get your hands on at low prices. Make sure you’re being vigilant when buying from one of these online marketplaces.

  • When buying on Gumtree or Facebook, use a secure online payment facility like PayPal, rather than cash or direct deposit.
  • If meeting a buyer/seller in person, choose a public spot that is well-lit, and take someone with you.
  • Don’t pay for an item upfront via direct deposit or wire transfer.
  • When using online marketplaces, look at other buyers’ feedback for the seller and inspect the item first if you can. 
  • If you’re going to meet a buyer or seller in person, take someone with you. Choose a public spot that’s busy and well lit. Victoria Police have set up special “safe zones” outside some 24-hour police stations, where online buyers and sellers can safely exchange items.

Secure payment

  • Use secure ways to pay, such as PayPal, where the seller never sees your card or account details.
  • If you do pay by card, use a credit card rather than a debit card and don’t save the card info with your online account. 
  • If possible, avoid paying in advance by bank deposit or PayID or via a non-secure method such wire transfer, money order or Bitcoin.
  • If you need to create accounts with online stores, make sure you use strong and unique passwords and avoid saving your credit card information with them.
  • Never send money or give credit card details to anyone you don’t trust, including the websites you browse.

Online shopping is a great experience for most of us but stay aware of the hidden scams so you can ensure your items always arrive, as described. Enjoy the bargain hunting!

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