The Four Ways Fraudsters Try to Snag Online Shoppers - and How You Can Avoid Them

The COVID-19 pandemic has got more Australians shopping online, leaving them increasingly vulnerable to scammers poised to take advantage. Understanding the four key ways these fraudsters can strike is key to avoiding becoming a victim before it’s too late, Rafael Lourenco, EVP of ClearSale writes.

‘Stay safe’ has become the new ‘see you later’ in coronavirus-plagued Australia, but these words ring true beyond more than just our health.

While we’re all preoccupied with the challenges of life in lockdown, cybercriminals are poised to take advantage of the current crisis, putting our social and financial security at alarming risk.

The Australian Competition and the Consumer Commission’s (ACCC) Scamwatch has already recorded more than 140 COVID-19-linked reports from local businesses and individuals.

With the Australian Cyber Security Centre (ACSC) warning of a significant increase in online scams, customers need to be aware of the different ways in which they can be targeted.

However, according to research compiled by ClearSale, titled ‘No second chances! Why the e-commerce industry needs to make anti-fraud protection a priority’, this doesn’t always appear to be the case, with some Australian consumers still unaware of the four major types of fraud posing a risk to their personal details and their purse strings. 

1)    Credit Card Fraud

Coronavirus may have inevitably altered the way that we're shopping, but it’s certainly not put a stopper on it. Online shopping has naturally soared since Australia first initiated lockdown restrictions back in March, which, while alleviating our socially-distanced boredom, is creating a wider net for fraudsters to take advantage of our looser credit cards.

From our research, credit card fraud was the most well-known by Australians, with 81 percent claiming to be familiar with it. The methods of deception may be more veiled though than consumers realise, however. Card-not-present fraud, when the scam takes place without the physical card, cost Australians more than half a billion dollars in 2017, according to the Australian Payments Network (APN).

At the same time, once normal life eventually resumes, consumers will need to be more vigilant when logging into public WiFi networks, such as coffee shops or airports: an increasingly common way for cyber hackers to steal unsuspecting users’ credit card details. Meanwhile, despite cash’s relative decline in usage, credit card skimming via ATMs still remains of concern in Australia, and it will do us well not to forget this when once again cash is required at the local takeaway.

Yet there are simple steps that will minimise the risk of credit card compromise. Extra layers of checks before transactions, such as two-factor authentication for online shopping and applying SMS alerts for certain physical transactions, can reduce the chance of fraudsters making purchases using stolen details without an owner’s knowledge. Avoiding making transactions on shared or public devices is a must, as is the age-old advice of keeping your password or PIN separate from your credit card.

2)    Phishing/Email Scams

Within days after the government initiated Stage 3 lockdown, Australians began receiving a mysterious text purportedly from the Federal Government about coronavirus. This, like a number of other alarmingly official-looking messages, turned out to be none other than a phishing scam, a common method used by fraudsters to entice users into handing over their credentials.

Claiming to be everyone from the tax office, health agencies to Amazon, these messages claim to offer fake testing kits or links to financial assistance that ultimately dupe consumers into providing personal information or account data. Hackers can then create new user credentials, install malware into your system and steal sensitive data. These kinds of scams are nothing new, so it’s unsurprising that more than three-quarters of those surveyed were aware of the practice.

Whereas once these kinds of attacks were easily given away by poor English and formatting imitations, phishing scammers are now much more adept at mimicking the organisations in question—but there are some giveaways to look out for.

One is scammers will rarely use a person’s name and will often revert to ‘Dear Customers’ or something similar. Another indicator is trying to reassure recipients by encouraging them to confirm the email. One easy way to be certain is to check the ‘from’ email address and compare to that of the organisation itself. If ever in any doubt though, do not click the links listed and never hand over private information via these messages.

3)    Online Shopping Fraud

Despite the prevalence of online shopping in our current stay-at-home state, almost half of Australians were unaware of this increasingly common type of fraud.

This scam rears its ugly head usually in the form of what seems like a good deal either for a product, experience or concert ticket. The unsuspecting victim transfers payment to the ‘seller’ who promises delivery of the item, or in some cases demands further payment for duties or extra delivery charges. Strangely enough, the item never materialises.

Offers like this usually begin with a fake website or, increasingly, a mobile app, which are either newly created or mimick trusted retailers with familiar logos and slogans and a URL that’s easily mistaken for the real thing. Shoppers should immediately be suspicious if these sites offer popular items at a fraction of the usual cost and promise perks like free shipping and overnight delivery.

4)    Hijacking

The last and most sinister of the four types of scam is ‘hijacking’, a cyber safety term just over a third of Australians are familiar with Also known as ransomware, these rare but crippling attacks see attackers hacking into your computer or mobile device, or encrypting your files, and holding them ransom until you pay a fee. If you don’t pay the ransom, cybercriminals can delete your data for good, or even lock you out of your computer or mobile device permanently.

Given how much of a stake we put in our digital files, such as photos and important documents, this is a frightening scenario for any individual. Though businesses and public offices are the usual targets of these attacks, consumers should still protect themselves by keeping their cybersecurity measures up-to-date, including anti-spyware, malware, and firewall, while backing up important files and photos externally. Take care when clicking suspicious emails and links to reduce the chance of an attack.

About the Research:

The survey, titled “No second chances! Why the e-commerce industry needs to make anti-fraud protection a priority”, was conducted among 3035 consumers that shop online at least once every few months within the UK (1008), Australia (1006), and Mexico (1021).

The interviews were conducted online by Sapio Research in March 2020 using an email invitation and an online survey. The interviews were conducted before the COVID-19 pandemic, so the sample is representative of attitudes before the international lockdown.

About ClearSale:

ClearSale offers the most complete e-commerce fraud protection, combining cutting-edge statistical technology with the world’s largest team of specialized fraud analysts for a balanced, comprehensive, real-world approach. Trusted by over 3,000 customers worldwide and touting a 99% retention rate, ClearSale is the first company to offer chargeback guarantees and the largest company focused on global card-not-present fraud prevention. ClearSale helps businesses prevent fraudulent chargebacks without interfering with the online shopping experience. As a result, clients can sell more, safely, even in dynamic or challenging international markets.  More information at or follow on LinkedIn, Facebook or Twitter @ClearSaleUS.

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