NAB is warning fashion fans taking advantage of mid-year sales to remain vigilant, as scammers target popular brands with fake websites and online social media stores.
Customer reports of goods and services scams have increased 66% since February.
With Australians aged 16 and over spending an average of $2,063 each on clothes and shoes last year , criminals are targeting well-known labels by creating ‘ghost’ shopping websites to rip off unsuspecting shoppers.
Scamwatch data reveals:
- Consumers lost more than $9 million to online shopping scams in 2022.
- Scammers have used shopping scams to steal more than $2.5 million from Australians in the first four months of 2023.
- The number of shopping scams with reports of financial losses is also growing, up from about 35.9% in 2021, to 45.2% in 2022 and 47.5% so far in 2023.
NAB Executive Group Investigations & Fraud, Chris Sheehan, said the creation of ghost sites and fake ads on legitimate websites highlighted just how sophisticated scammers had become.
“Many Australians will use the upcoming mid-year sales to grab a bargain, while for businesses it’s an opportunity to end the financial year on a strong note,” Mr Sheehan, a former executive with the Australian Federal Police, said.
“That’s why we need to help consumers and businesses to see through scams.”
Mr Sheehan said criminals, often connected to multi-national organised crime groups, were behind the development of sophisticated ‘ghost’ websites designed to be almost indistinguishable from legitimate sites.
“They’ll often feature images of current season clothing and stolen logos along with ABNs and a .com.au domain name,” he said.
“Today’s digital world means we can shop on our phones at the click of a button, 24/7. It’s particularly easy to miss the red flags if you’re online shopping on the couch late at night after a busy day or you have one eye on the TV.
“Fake websites and online social media stores are generally only up and running for a short period of time before scammers move on to the next brand.
“Most of the time nothing will arrive, while sometimes the buyer will receive a counterfeit version of the item they’ve purchased.”
Mr Sheehan said Scamwatch data showed almost 18,000 online shopping scams were reported in 2022, but the true number was likely to be much higher.
“Thirty five percent of all people reporting online shopping scams were aged 25 to 44,” he said.
“This highlights even people who might be perceived as being quite tech savvy can fall victim to these crimes and is a trend consistent with recent NAB Economics research,” he said.
“If you think you have been scammed, contact your bank immediately. We are here to help.”
How to see through an online shopping scam
- The biggest red flag to look for is the payment method. Being asked to pay using a money order, an electronic funds transfer, an electronic currency like Bitcoin or a pre-loaded money card should raise alarm bells.
- Follow social media groups about your favourite brands. Users often post fake websites and social media accounts as they appear.
- Look at the site’s reviews, contact details and return policies, particularly if it’s your first-time shopping with the brand online.
- If you are unsure if the website or social media channel is legitimate, close the browser and manually type the brand’s name in a reputable search engine.
- If the price of an item or its benefits sound too good to be true it generally is.
- Establish where the business is based. It is much easier to dispute a purchase with Australian-based companies than ones overseas.
 ABS and NAB Economics analysis of the 2022 calendar year.