Black Friday scams on the rise: how to stay safe during the sales

There’s a lot of excitement over the Black Friday sales, as shoppers seek out the best deals on big-brand products. Unfortunately, it’s also a time of year rife with scammers aiming to take advantage of the occasion. The good news is that there are simple steps you can take to avoid Black Friday scams.

Black Friday is arguably one of the biggest retail events of the year, with the Australian Retailers Association expecting up to $6.36 billion in sales this year. Beyond the Black Friday sales, research firm Roy Morgan forecasts $66.8 billion of spending leading up to Christmas. These figures are music to scammers’ ears, providing the perfect opportunity to take a slice of the spending pie.

Nearly three million Australians have fallen victim to Black Friday scams, according to virtual private network brand NordVPN. Additionally, Telstra blocked 66% more SMS scams between November and December 2022 than in the previous three months.

Fake online stores impersonating genuine retailers is one of the biggest Black Friday scams, according to the National Anti-Scam Centre. Run by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), the scam watchdog reported that Australians lost over $6.2 million to online shopping scams between January and September this year – a figure expected to rise during the end-of-year sales. 2,760 fake online stores have been reported so far in 2023.

“We have seen an alarming increase in reports of fake online shopping website scams, which use the latest technology to look like genuine, well-known Australian fashion and footwear labels,” ACCC Deputy Chair Catriona Lowe said.

How to protect yourself from Black Friday scams

Made to look like the real deal, fake online stores list popular products, including technology, at low prices. In many cases, the product doesn’t actually exist, or is a fake. Either way, you don’t get what you paid for. After taking your money, these scammers often disappear, only to pop up elsewhere under a different guise.

One of the oldest adages proves to be true when shopping online: if something looks too good to be true, it probably is. There are lots of genuinely good deals to be found during Black Friday but if a shop you haven’t heard of lists a price significantly cheaper than everywhere else, be alert.

Another important safety tip is to avoid clicking on links sent via text messages or emails. Visit a shop’s website directly if you want to buy something, as some scammers try to message you pretending to be a popular brand.

Even searching for online stores is rife with danger because fake stores can buy ads to appear on your Google and social media feeds.

“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. “As an alternative, consumers may wish to familiarise themselves with the site addresses of their favourite brands and navigate there directly or scroll down the search results to ensure they find the real site.”

When paying for a product online, use a bank card, such as a credit or debit card, or PayPal. These methods give you more protection than direct transfers or other payment methods if something goes wrong.

If you realise you’ve been scammed, contact your bank as soon as possible. Report the scam to Scamwatch and contact IDCARE for help with any cybersecurity concerns.

Think about the children when buying tech

Scams are one of many dangers to consider when shopping the sales. If you’re buying gifts for children, particularly technology or video game-related devices, there are plenty of other safety factors to consider.

It’s the time of year when you might buy a discounted phone or internet-connected device as a Christmas gift for a child. With this in mind, it’s important to think about online safety like accessing age-appropriate content, privacy, and security. For first-time parents, there’s an overwhelming number of things to think about.

One good resource to help you make informed decisions is the tech gift guide on the eSafety Commissioner website. From the government agency aimed at tackling online safety, it’s a comprehensive guide that explains how to choose a safe device or video game for young people.

Even harmless-looking electronic toys come with digital risks. Some toys connect to the internet, while others record audio and video. Although it’s near-impossible to protect against every kind of threat, the most important thing is to be informed.

The same goes for avoiding scams. Whether you’re choosing a gift or making a purchase, be vigilant to keep you and your loved ones safe.

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