As you’re doing your Christmas shopping this year, it’s more important than ever to be on alert for scams.
Australians have lost at least $280 million to scams this year and experts are predicting a bump in activity in December.
With that in mind, here are some of the most common scams to watch out for over the Christmas season.
Caravans, puppies, and other fake sales scams
Scammers are increasingly using fake websites to sell goods that never arrive.
“Fake websites selling goods is something that tends to peak at this time of year,” says David Lacey, managing director of scam support service IDCare.
Often scammers will pretend to be selling high-value items that have an emotional value, Dr Lacey explains, like caravans or puppies.
The ACCC’s Scamwatch received more than 2,800 reports of pet scams this year, with reported losses of almost $3.5 million. Vehicle scams meanwhile cost Australians more than $1.9 million.
“Usually, it starts with an ad pushed through email, social media or a search engine,” Dr Lacey explains.
“The websites we’re seeing some of the more sophisticated groups use will mirror existing websites or businesses.
“People will click on the ad, they’ll see a caravan … people will either be asked to pay up front or pay a deposit to a bank account that may not be in the name of the business.”
The scammers may also ask for a “freight fee” or copies of your driver’s licence, bank details or other identifying information.
Some puppy scam victims have found that their stolen details have been used to scam others.
“In some cases, sadly, we’ve had police raid people’s properties thinking they’re the masterminds of these scams when in fact they’re just another victim,” Dr Lacey says.
Missing parcel scams
If you receive a suspicious text message about a missing Christmas delivery, it’s almost certainly a scam.
If you click on the links in these messages or emails, you’ll often be asked for identifying information like passwords, birthdays and banking details, Dr Lacey says.
Sometimes you will be asked to pay a fee to release the parcel.
Cryptocurrency and investment scams
While you might lose $1,000 to a puppy scam, investment scams can be far more damaging.
A classic tactic involves the promise of low-risk, high return “investments” often involving cryptocurrencies or crypto mining.
Others have fallen victim to scammers running fake cryptocurrency exchanges or stock brokerage websites — in some cases losing hundreds of thousands of dollars.
“People are seeing the legitimate market, seeing the gain in returns, and contrasting that with how much money you can get in the bank,” Dr Lacey says.
“[The scams] can involve a relatively low investment to start with, typically $250–$350. It escalates from there.”
It can be embarrassing to realise you’ve been duped, and sometimes the scammers will use your shame to scam you again.
“They will be contacted by criminals saying, ‘Hey, we know you’re involved in a scam, but we can help get the money back’.
“In our experience, almost 99 per cent of the time it doesn’t happen.”
Tips for protecting yourself from scams
- Use a search engine to find information and reviews before buying from an unknown vendor.
- Don’t respond to unsolicited communication, especially if it involves requests for money or personal information. If you’re in doubt, call or email the company or service yourself.
- Avoid links in unsolicited emails and text messages.
- Be suspicious of investment opportunities and offers that seem too good to be true.
- Never provide remote access to your computer.
What to do if you suspect a scam
- Stop sending money immediately, even if you’re told its necessary to withdraw funds or get an item delivered.
- Report the scam to your bank or financial institution, local police and ASIC.
- You can also report the scam to the ACCC’s Scamwatch. The ACCC can’t help you recover your money or track down a scammer but your report may help prevent future scams.
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