On the hunt for a bargain? Beware online scammers out to fleece you

Shoppers desperate to save money as the cost of living rises are being targeted by online scammers in a major new crime wave

  • Scammers are selling fake goods or taking payment for items not delivered 
  • The sale of fake designer clothing and footwear is the biggest growth area

Shopper desperate to save money as the cost of living rises are being targeted by online scammers in a major new crime wave. Scammers prey on bargain hunters by either selling fake goods or taking payment for items with no intention of handing them over.

The sale of fake designer clothing and footwear is the biggest growth area for online crooks – more than doubling over the past year.

It is followed by fraudulent sales of electronics and second-hand household goods. Games consoles such as PlayStations, as well as drones and iPhones are among the popular items listed for sale by fraudsters.

The internet safety organisation Get Safe Online is launching a campaign tomorrow to highlight this growing fraud and will urge shoppers to be far more vigilant. It has discovered that three in five of us have changed our shopping habits to cut costs over the past year – and fraudsters are exploiting these shifts to create new ways to target their victims.

More than eight million Britons have fallen victim to this type of fraud at least once during the past year, according to Get Safe Online, while three in ten are noticing more fake websites and sellers when shopping online.

Fraudsters are drawn to social media platforms, such as Facebook Marketplace and trading websites Gumtree and eBay. Most adverts on these websites are genuine, but not all are. These websites also have controls to protect shoppers, but scammers are finding ways to trick their victims into not using them.

For example, scammers make up excuses about why they cannot accept payment via official channels and need a bank transfer instead, which is sadly harder to trace.

Tony Neate, chief executive of Get Safe Online, says: ‘You have to be extra vigilant when shopping online these days – as the criminals are getting increasingly cunning in the tricks they use to lure in unsuspecting victims. Unfortunately, with the cost-of-living crisis, people are more likely to wear rose-tinted glasses when making purchases as they are desperate to find a bargain.

‘And when they see discounted goods they are less likely to bother asking why they are so cheap.’

Examples of scams that Neate has recently seen include fake designer clothing, such as £175 Ugg boots going for £100. He says: ‘Obviously, there are occasional sales – so you might get the boots for £150 if you shop around. But when you are paying far less through Facebook Marketplace or Gumtree than you would be shelling out on the high street, alarm bells should be ringing. You should just walk away.’

Scammers don’t always offer discounts. If items are highly sought after they know they can attract victims by charging the normal retail price. Neate says: ‘I bought a PlayStation 5 for my grandchildren last year – ordering it online from a high street shop. It took several weeks of waiting before the games console was available.

‘Scammers prey on our impatience. People have paid full price to a crook to get a PlayStation 5 immediately when it was out of stock elsewhere. They end up paying for nothing but a pack of lies.’

Lucy Hall, from Tring in Hertfordshire, lost £90 when she fell victim to an online scammer. The 34-year-old mother says: ‘I put an advert on Gumtree asking if anyone had a second-hand car seat for my new baby. A woman contacted me via its messaging service. She was friendly, polite and even sent me photos – and asked for £90 for a seat worth at least £200.

‘When I offered to send the money via PayPal she told me she was not signed up and asked for a direct money transfer instead. I feel foolish now, but I simply sent the money and heard nothing more.’

Lucy adds: ‘Unfortunately, I have learnt the hard way that no matter how convincing and friendly someone appears it is just not worth the risk of paying via bank transfer. I now insist on PayPal because it has a buyer protection guarantee of a refund if the items do not turn up or don’t match the description.’

Separate research by Lloyds Bank found that shoppers tricked into buying fake designer clothing lose £193 on average per scam. Victims are enticed by price tags at about half the normal retail price. The sale of fraudulent brand-name shoes and trainers, such as Nike, Adidas and Vans, is also soaring.

5 Tips to thwart fraudsters when shopping on the web 

1) Pay by card. Fraudsters like bank transfers and will often encourage you to pay this way because once they have your money they can disappear without trace. Genuine sellers should allow you to pay by credit card. Under Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act you are covered by credit card purchase protection if goods or services bought from £100 to £30,000 turn out to be fraudulent.

2) Purchase in person. When buying from online marketplaces and social media platforms crooks will often offer to post items to you, but then disappear once your money is in their bank account. Try to find someone who lives locally for a purchase even if it means paying more. That way you can make the payment when you take possession of the item you’re buying. If a seller makes excuses about why they cannot meet in person, this should be taken as a warning sign. 

3) Take a step back. Fraudsters want you to focus on the item and price – and not to stop and think about whether the seller can be trusted. They also use confidence tricks, building up trust with heart-warming back stories and photos. Do not rush in, but get a second opinion before parting with any money – because when a deal looks too good to be true, it usually is. Get Safe Online has a ‘check a website’ facility that allows you to see whether a website is likely to be genuine or fraudulent. Go to getsafeonline.org/checkawebsite. 

4) Watch out for fake shopping websites. Cyber security firm F- Secure says although these are increasingly sophisticated, there are still telltale signs that they aren’t genuine. Check the domain name suffix, for example. The use of .co.com instead of .co.uk or .com should raise concern. Browse the website and look for spelling mistakes and make sure it has contact details that can be reached. An ‘https’ prefix and a padlock symbol on a website address is a good indicator that a website is secure and not a fake. 

5) Only use PayPal Friends and Family when paying someone you know and trust. Payments made in this way are not eligible for the usual PayPal consumer protection if things go wrong.