How to avoid online shopping scams
Six quick tips to help you stay protected while online shopping.
November 2023 - 5 minutes' read
What's in this article
- How to spot red flags, warning signs and fake websites
- How to shop online safely including tips for assessing a store’s authenticity
- Why storing payment details in your browser is a bad idea
- Digital features that may help you shop safely
Shopping events such as Black Friday and Cyber Monday have much to offer shoppers each year. While these sales lend an air of urgency and excitement, it’s important to check that you can trust where you’re sending your money. In 2022 alone, Australians lost $9.26million* in online shopping scams according to Scamwatch, and these numbers continue to increase year on year.
Scammers see these global sales as an opportunity to make money from over-excited shoppers eager for deals. So here are some simple tips and strategies to help you stay safe when you find the deal you’ve been looking for.
1. Watch out for the 'too good to be true' scams
If you come across any offers where a product is being sold at a fraction of its usual price, it’s a red flag and you’ve probably come across a ‘too good to be true’ shopping scam. Scammers set up fake online shopping sites, offering popular items at prices that seem too good for shoppers to pass up.
Trust your gut, if something feels too good to be true, it probably is.
2. Choose stores that use secure websites when shopping online
When you land on a product page, check the URL in your browser. Can you see https:// at the beginning of the web address? This indicates a secure connection and that any information you provide is protected by encryption. Is there a padlock symbol to the left of the URL? This indicates a secure connection between your browser and the website, and is an additional visual cue that the site is secure, adding another layer of security. You can click the padlock to check details of the site’s security certificate.
These two signs indicate that your personal details and payment information are less likely to be at risk of being intercepted by cybercriminals. However, this doesn’t mean that the site isn’t a scam. Scammers can and do create fake online stores with these features to increase the legitimacy of the site, so you’ll still need to be cautious and not judge the website’s authenticity based on these two factors alone.
3. Study the seller's website and check the website authenticity
If you’ve clicked through from social media ads and landed on an unfamiliar website, make sure you:
- Read reviews not just from one or two people but from many online shoppers. Sometimes, a site that has only ‘good/5 star’ reviews can be a red flag
- Review the seller’s contact details; head office address, phone number, email and verify these using Google search
- Check to see if there is a complaint process
- Understand whether there is a returns policy or ‘About us’ section
- Search for the seller on social media to see if they have a legitimate profile
- Check to see the age of the website by using a domain age checker.
Use a website authenticity checker and make sure you feel comfortable before checking out your cart to avoid being scammed.
4. Use secure payment services such as your Credit Card or PayPal
Most credit cards offer fraud protection guarantees, so you won’t be liable for any unauthorised transactions for purchases that you didn’t make. However, a lot of guarantees don't cover scam purchases, so it's important to keep this in mind.
For additional peace of mind, check if your bank offers any features that could make life harder for scammers trying to intercept your card details.
For example, if you have a Westpac credit card or debit card you can use a Digital Card found within the Westpac app to make shopping online a little safer. This card has a dynamic 3-digit security code (CVC) that changes every 24 hours. If the online retailer is compromised, your card details will only be valid within a 24-hour window.
Remember it’s a good idea to steer clear of payment methods like gift cards, cash, currency exchange offices or cryptocurrency, as they may not have similar protection.
5. Never store your financial information with an online store
Consider whether you need to save your card information on a browser or website when you're checking out. If the security of the browser or store is compromised, your personal or financial information could be exposed and misused, leading to unauthorised transactions or identity theft. Be sure it is a site you trust, that you have read the terms and conditions and that you understand how your information is stored.
If you are unsure or don't regularly shop with the store, do not save your information - instead enter your details manually each time it is needed. Alternatively, you could use your Westpac Digital Card, so if your details are ever compromised, the CVC entered will only remain valid for a short period of time.
6. Monitor your credit and bank statements for signs of fraud
It’s good practice to regularly check your bank statements. By doing so you can spot any unauthorised transactions, irregular charges or suspicious activities and contact the relevant parties. This will make a difference in safeguarding your hard-earned money and ensuring your accounts remain secure.
Amid the frenzy of Black Friday, Cyber Monday and holiday season, it’s important to understand online shopping scams and remember that scammers are always active during these times. Be wary of ‘Too good to be true’ scams, prioritize shopping sites with secure features like https://. Use trusted payment methods and avoid storing your credit card details with online stores.
Frequently Asked Questions
You can raise a dispute with us via Online Banking or in the Westpac App. Visit our Security Hub's How to report page to find out how.