Christmas shoppers are warned to take extra caution over the coming fortnight, as yearly scam data and industry insights suggest a rampant increase in online fraud and scams leading into the holiday period.
So far, Australians have lost at least $526 million dollars to scams in 2022 – a figure only expected to climb amid the seasonal shopping frenzy of December.
According to data from Scamwatch, a website run by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), December routinely sees the highest reported losses resulting from various scams.
In December 2021, Australians reported scams totalling over $43 million in losses, and saw an approximate 29 per cent increase in losses compared to November of that year – with the bulk of reported scams coming in the form of phishing and online shopping scams.
The Federal Government has warned Aussies to be "on guard" against scams leading up to the Summer break, particularly the elderly and other vulnerable groups who "may be experiencing loneliness".
"The Christmas shopping rush is a major opportunity for scammers looking to catch the unwary," said Assistant Treasurer and Minister for Financial Services, Stephen Jones.
"Simple safety techniques like never giving personal details over the phone, and avoiding clicking on suspicious links in text messages or emails, can help keep us all safe," he added.
According to the Government's Treasury, the top five scams to avoid this Christmas are:
- Online shopping scams: Beware fake toy shop or gift websites, typically posing as a new online retailer. These websites are often advertised on social media platforms, and exist to dupe consumers into providing credit card details, personal information and payment for false products.
- Delivery / Parcel scams: These are SMS-based scams which send a fraudulent link to consumers under the false pretence of a parcel delivery. Clicking the link typically leads to a prompt for payment, personal information or a fraudulent download which can compromise your phone.
- Unwanted present scams: Scams which typically take form as fraudulent auction sites, wherein a scammer places an "unwanted present for sale" advertisement on classified websites, leading consumers to false purchases.
- "Hi Mum" scams: These scams impersonate a family member claiming to have lost their phone and acquired a new number, and then prompt the victim for further action such as payment or personal information.
- Puppy scams: Watch out for fake online puppy sales which, as the title suggests, offer the purchase of a puppy through typically unofficial channels. It may seem a niche scam vector, but Australians lost over $1.3 million to puppy scams in 2020 alone.
Banking company Westpac has also warned Australians to prepare for more scam calls in the lead-up to Christmas.
Following Black Friday sales, Westpac observed a "17 per cent uplift" in fraud-related calls – prompting the company to issue a statement on the coming holiday period.
"The festive season is a joyous time for most of us, but for scammers this is an opportunity to take advantage of the generous hearts and wallets of Australians," said Westpac General Manager of Financial Crime and Fraud Prevention, Chris Whittingham.
"This may include buying and selling scams with fake websites offering competitive deals, enticing many Australians who may be rethinking their household budgets amid cost-of-living pressures," said Whittingham.
"All Australians should take extra care when shopping online and be especially cautious of offers that may appear too good to be true, or that seek payment in new or unusual ways like through wire transfer, cryptocurrency or via instalments," he added.
Westpac also suggests use of a Digital Card when shopping online – a product which utilises a dynamic 3-digit CVC code which changes on a regular basis, and which Westpac says reduces fraud by 80 per cent compared to "static" cards.
For further advice on shopping safely during the holiday period, the Australian Cyber Security Centre offers the following secure online shopping checklist.