Only Santa gives things away for free. How can I keep safe when shopping this Christmas?

29 October 2021

The Covid-19 pandemic has led to a rise in online shopping, with Australia Post reporting record-breaking quantities of parcel deliveries weekly. This trend is set to grow over the months leading up to Christmas as holiday shoppers turn to online offerings to find the perfect gift. However, before you begin your digital spending spree, learn how to spot common scams and how to protect your information and money while shopping online. 

‘Too good to be true’

You've decided on the perfect gift, and when you start shopping around, you find it for a low price … so low in fact, that it seems too good to be true. It could be that the supplier got a very good deal  or perhaps they made a typo when inputting the price. More likely however, it could be a scam, targeted at selling counterfeit or lower-quality goods, or stealing your money. 

If something doesn’t seem quite right with an item’s asking price, one thing you can do is check their reviews. On platforms like eBay, you can see the quantity of feedback given by customers, and when the feedback was left. This allows you to see if an account has maybe been hacked and used for nefarious purposes. For example, if the seller has been inactive for years and only recently started selling high-end items at great prices, this may be the sign of such an account. 

Recently established stores

The item you have found may not be on eBay or a similar well-known marketplace – perhaps it’s on a website that you’ve never heard of before. How can you be sure that you’re buying from a legitimate retailer? Watch out for stores that are brand new, perhaps popping up to capitalise on the yearly gift-buying frenzy, or a recent trend. When buying from an unfamiliar source, do some quick research by searching for their social media accounts. If their accounts are only recently established, have a low or unengaged following, or the store lacks any other kind of online presence, stay away.

Payment by unusual or unsecure methods

When buying online, protect your hard-earned money by using secure payment methods that allow for dispute resolution, namely PayPal or a credit card. In the event of a counterfeit item or a vanishing seller, you can lodge a dispute with the bank or provider and be refunded. Additionally, when paying for goods, check that you’re paying through a secure connection – look for the padlock symbol, and the ‘https’ (HyperText Transfer Protocol Secure) prefix in front of your URL address in the address bar of your web browser. 

Avoid retailers that request payment by unusual and unsecure methods such as money orders, wire transfers or payment details sent via email.  These methods make lodging disputes difficult (or impossible) and are open to tampering.