Fake online retailers scam Australians out of A$150,000 in 2017 alone: Australian Competition and Consumer Commission
Ben Harley had always wanted a Weber barbecue.
For around A$750 (NZ$825), he thought it was a worthwhile purchase from a reputable brand.
So when he headed online to buy one, Harley was buoyed to find a deal that would snag him a discount of more than A$200.
"I searched online for the model I wanted and clicked one of the first ad links. They were offering it for A$506 at the time, so naturally I was very interested," he said.
"I did a bit of research and saw the website was also selling a lot of other well-known outdoor brands...so I made the decision to buy it."
But in the weeks that followed, Harley would discover that the website, Outdoor Living Warehouse, was in fact a scam, masquerading as a legitimate online retailer.
This year alone the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission's Scamwatch service has received more than 1000 reports of online shopping scams worth more than A$150,000.
By displaying established website layouts, responsive customer service channels and recognisable brands at too-good-to-be-true prices, fake retail sites are successfully fooling consumers.
In Harley's case, he received a payment and a shipping confirmation email from Outdoor Living Warehouse within three days of making a bank transfer to the website account.
"They gave me an estimated delivery time of 7-8 business days...then that date passed. So I contacted them again. They replied, saying they had experienced a logistics issue, but everything was back on track," he said.
"That's when communication went cold."
Harley could not get through to the company via its listed phone number and he did not receive any email response, prompting him to contact Weber directly.
He was surprised to learn that Weber had received "numerous phone calls" about the site, which was regrettably not a legitimate distributor of their products.
A Weber spokesman said the brand often became bait for scammers.
"These scams are exceedingly frustrating for us...ranging from fake e-commerce based sites...right through to emails offering free barbecues for testing in order to scam contact and email details are unfortunately on the rise."
According to Scamwatch data, young Australians aged between 18 and 24 most commonly report losing money to online shopping scammers.
The ACCC statistics also revealed that nearly one in every two people who reported such a scam lost money, with fashion, cosmetics and pets the most commonly reported product types appearing on fake sites.
"I was shocked to see the numbers are going way, way up. I think scammers are getting very sophisticated and people are getting more and more used to shopping online," said ACCC Deputy Chair Delia Rickard.
"Scammers take advantage...setting up fake websites that look like genuine online stores, including professional-looking design, stolen logos, and even a '.com.au' domain name and/or stolen ABNs."
Rickard said any site asking for payment via money order, pre-loaded money card, wire transfer, or gift cards was a tip-off for consumers.
In hindsight, Harley said the experience had made him wary of clicking on recommended Google ad links, just because it sat at the top of the search results.
"Regardless of where a site fell in a Google search, I would think they would be reputable."
Harley's bank said it was "confident" they would be able to recoup the money lost, however it could take up to 120 days.
"This will probably be the last time I buy a high-dollar value product online," he said.
The Outdoor Living Warehouse site has since been pulled down.
- Sydney Morning Herald