Be wary of scams when looking to purchase a bargain or Christmas gifts online, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) is warning.
The warning comes as the ACCC revealed that online shopping scams have increased by 42 per cent this year amid the coronavirus pandemic, with more people relying on the internet to make purchases.
So far this year the ACCC's Scamwatch has received more than 12,000 reports of online shopping scams, totaling almost $7 million in reported losses.
The increase has led Scamwatch to warn Australians to be careful when looking to snag a bargain in the Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales or when starting to add Christmas gifts to their virtual 'carts'.
ACCC Deputy Chair, Delia Rickard, said scammers were taking advantage of the increase in online shoppers - particularly with big online sales currently and the festive season mere weeks away.
She said scammers were creating fake websites that looked like genuine online stores, offering products at very low prices with victims receiving a fake item or nothing at all in return for payment.
"They also post fake ads on classified websites, often claiming they are travelling and someone else will deliver the goods, but the item never arrives and the victim can no longer contact the seller," Ms Rickard said.
These classified websites - such as Facebook Marketplace and Gumtree - have also experienced losses of around $4.5 million this year, an increase of about 60 per cent.
While reported online shopping scams involving cars (reported losses of $808,571), phones, computers, games (more than $844,805 in losses) and even shoes ($81,502) continue to be high, many scammers have targeted the loneliness felt by many this year amid coronavirus restrictions.
The most common purchase a person was trying to make when they were scammed this year was attempting to purchase a puppy or other pet. More than 2100 pet scams have been reported, leaving these people not only friendless but also $2,050,158 out of pocket.
While the more tech-savvy in the community may think they are immune, people aged under 24 years old reported the highest number of scams involving electronics such as phones and computers.
Ms Rickard encouraged people to be wary of sales of items much below other websites or for payment requested by direct bank transfer or by cryptocurrency.
"Take the time to consider who you are dealing with and don't be pressured by special offers," she said.
"Do your research by checking independent reviews of online stores or the seller's history on classified websites."
Ms Rickard added that fake parcel delivery notifications by text message or email were another emerging scam.
"Australia Post will never ask you to click a link to enter your personal details, nor will they ask for credit card details or a fee to deliver your packages," Ms Rickard said.
Related coverage: Warning about scammers purporting to be police
Related coverage: Police warning following scam reports
Investigation and Response Inspector, Bob Heaney, said online scammers were often "faceless" perpetrators who operated in the shadows while looking to exploit vulnerabilities.
In August, Ballarat detectives investigated a number of incidents after residents lost large sums of money after providing access to their computers after receiving scam phone calls. Since then, detectives have not noticed any major trends or issues relating to scams in the area.
The number of deception offences increased in the region during the COVID-19 period, though it is unknown whether this is linked to scams or people being on their computers more often.
Inspector Heaney said COVID restrictions had forced people to operate more online, presenting a bigger opportunity for this type of offending.
Inspector Heaney urged people to be hyper-vigilant about who they provide their personal information and bank details to but also to be mindful of personal safety.
Aside from deception online, meeting a stranger to exchange an item of value can also present safety concerns.
Unfortunately robberies can occur so Inspector Heaney encouraged people not to put themselves in vulnerable positions.
"Be careful when you are meeting someone in person and make sure you are satisfied that who you are meeting is who they say they are," he said, adding steps could be taken such as asking for a phone number (and checking it is legitimate before meeting the person) and organising to meet in a public place in daylight hours.
If you fall victim to a scam, contact your bank as soon as possible and the platform which you were scammed through to inform them of the circumstances.
Most banks offer a chargeback service for credit cards and will dispute a credit transaction with the merchant if they still exist.