News - Essential expert tips to make sure you don't get scammed with online sales
Shopping online? Be sure to spot the lock symbol before the URL so you know it's a secure site.
Shopping online? Be sure to spot the lock symbol before the URL so you know it's a secure site.

Essential expert tips to make sure you don't get scammed with online sales

According to ScamWatch, Australians have lost $6.8 million to online shopping scams this year. With the online sales season in full swing, that figure is set to grow, with cyber criminals lurking online and ready to rip off distracted shoppers.

Some retailers offer huge savings, but if the deal looks good to be true, it probably is. Falling victim to an online scam means you could be out of pocket for the entire purchase price – and potentially even have your credit card compromised.

According to ScamWatch, online shopping scams are ranked fourth in terms of dollars lost in Australia, and are the fourth most reported type of scam, with more than 12,000 instances noted so far in 2020.

So how can we stay safe online, protect our data, and still make the most of some excellent discounts? We spoke with Ashwin Pal, Director of Cybersecurity at Unisys Asia Pacific, to find out how you can stay protected online.

Set yourself up for shopping success

The first step to safe online shopping is to secure the devices you use.

We've all hit the 'remind me later' button when it comes to software upgrades, but the simple step of clicking 'update now' for apps, software and your web browser could save you from being hacked.

"Many updates address critical security issues as well as offer new features. Failure to update your devices may give criminals the opportunity to access your private data," explains Ashwin.

It's also important to make sure you create strong passwords. Many of us are guilty of using the same password across all our logins, but Ashwin reminds us that this can lead to multiple devices and applications being compromised.

"Use strong passwords that contain at least eight characters with a mix of letters, numbers and symbols – and change them every three months. Always use multi-factor authentication for mobile device accounts, such as a PIN and thumbprint, or Apple Face ID where possible," Ashwin shares.

Be scam aware

Once your devices are set up, the next step is knowledge. If you are aware of the common scams, you're more likely to spot one while you are shopping.

For example, a common trap for online shoppers are cloned websites. These may look like the real deal, but the tell-tale signs of spelling errors or poor-quality images should have you double checking if you are on a legitimate website.

"To make sure you are on the site you want, and not a fake one, look for "https://www…" in the address bar. Note the 's' means you are more likely to have a secure connection to that site. While there is no guarantee, people should NOT use sites without the 's' in 'http' as this means all data is travelling unencrypted and can easily be sniffed," explains Ashwin.

He also recommends looking for the lock symbol, which should be visible before the website URL in the address bar.


"If you feel as though something is a little off – leave the site immediately. Always type in the URL, rather than click on a link, and when you are on the website, check for that trusty lock symbol," encourages Ashwin.

Cyber criminals also target shoppers through the postal service. A common scam doing the rounds asks customers to pay additional fee to receive their package. Never trust a notification like this, contact your local post office directly if you are concerned.

Another trick comes in the form of an email that appears to come from your lender. It could include a link sending you to a look-a-like website, asking you to input your personal details – something that State Custodians would never ask you to. If you're ever unsure about any communications from State Custodians, please contact the Customer Care team.

The cost of free Wi-Fi?

If you spot a good deal online while you're out and about, avoid using the public Wi-Fi when you make your purchase.

Public Wi-Fi is not secure, and most hotspots won't encrypt your data, which means that your information could be plucked by cyber-savvy strangers.

"Any time you enter sensitive information using a public network, you're making yourself vulnerable to identity theft. So, if you can, stay off the public network, or make sure your phone or laptop has protections, such as a Virtual Private Network or anti-virus software in place if you are going to use it," says Ashwin.

And always remember, no matter the sale or deal, it's never worth the price of an online scam!


Always be cautious of providing a lot of personal information, particularly identification data such as photos of IDs or credit card information, unless you can positively validate the need for this. If in doubt, do not provide the information.

The opinions expressed in this article are the opinions of the author(s) and not necessarily those of State Custodians.

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