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‘Disturbing’ scam fleecing Aussies out of $500,000

Scammers are now paying for fake websites to appear in Google and other internet searches.

Aussies are being warned to watch out for scams this Black Friday and Cyber Monday as fraudsters employ new tactics to rip off shoppers.

The National Anti-Scam Centre has detected a rise in fake websites that look like genuine online retail stores, with scammers known to impersonate big-name brands like Peter Alexander, Lorna Jane and Gorman.

There have been 2,760 reports of fake online stores to the centre this year, with shoppers losing more than half a million dollars. In total, online shopping scams have fleeced Aussies of more than $6.2 million.

Black Friday sale sign and Lorna Jane fake website scam.
Aussies are being warned to watch out for scams this Black Friday, following a spike in fake websites. (Source: AAP/National Anti-Scam Centre)

Have you fallen victim to a shopping scam? Share your story with tamika.seeto@yahooinc.com

Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) deputy chair Catriona Lowe said scammers were using the latest technology to look like genuine, well-known Australian fashion and footwear labels.

“A recent, disturbing development is that scammers are paying for their fake websites to appear at the top of your internet search. This means you can’t necessarily trust the first listing you see,” Lowe said.

Lowe recommended shoppers familiarise themselves with the site addresses of their favourite brands and navigate there directly or scroll down the search results to make sure they are clicking on the legitimate site.

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“Consumers should also be aware that scammers are using social media platforms to set up bogus stores and to advertise their fake websites,” Lowe said.

The National Anti-Scam Centre said it had been working with retailers to remove the fake websites.

How to spot a scam

Scammers set up fake retail websites that look like genuine online stores, the ACCC said. They may use sophisticated designs and layouts, stolen logos, a ‘.com.au’ domain name and stolen Australian Business Numbers.

They often sell popular brands of clothing, jewellery and electronics at very low prices. Customers may receive an item that is fake, or nothing at all.

Scammers are also setting up fake online stores on social media platforms. After making sales, the stores will then disappear.

The ACCC said people could protect themselves by:

  • Watching out for websites or sellers advertising very low prices

  • Reporting sponsored ads to Google in ‘My Ad Centre’ by clicking on the three stacked dots next to the ad

  • Accessing websites via an independent search rather than an email, SMS or social media link, and using official apps if available

  • Using secure devices, avoiding public wifi and setting up multi-factor authentication

  • Paying by PayPal or credit card, not by direct bank deposit, money transfers or digital currencies like bitcoin

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