The COVID-19 lockdown has forced all Australians to change our habits – how we work, how we socialise, and how we shop. With social distancing and restrictions still in place, and the reluctancy of heading to crowded shopping centres, many of us have been shopping online more frequently instead.

It’s therefore a good time to revisit recommendations on how to stay safe when shopping online, especially as fraudsters are using the current situation to take advantage of online shoppers’ uncertainty.


Shop on reputable websites

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s Scamwatch has reported an increase in the number of ‘fake’ online stores, frequently advertising COVID-19 related goods for sale.

Often hosted abroad, the stores have been set-up within the last two months and have no intention of delivering the items purchased.

When buying online, it’s a good idea to stick to well-known brands you know you can trust. If you’re buying from a retailer for the first time, look for reviews on third-party websites built up over time as they are difficult for scammers to fake.

Ensure the retailer has a refund policy page

While some stores may offer a ‘no questions asked’ refund to ensure their customers are happy, Australian retailers aren’t obliged to provide a refund if you change your mind about a purchase. They must, however, provide a repair, replacement or refund if an item is faulty or significantly not as described.

When making an online purchase, it’s a good idea to check the retailer’s refund policy to ensure that you are comfortable with their return policies. If an online store doesn’t have an easy-to-find returns policy page then it could be an indicator that the website isn’t legitimate.

Being protected by Australian consumer law in case something does go wrong is also a good reason to choose an Australian retailer over one based abroad.

Beware of scam stores promoted through social media

Social media has become a lucrative channel for scammers to promote their online stores, with everything from fake activewear to cut-price tradesmen’s’ tools offered.

These stores will often only be live for a very short time, but they can often make significant amounts of money due to the reach that social media advertising gives them.

Building a reputable-looking online store and social media ad campaign is now very easy, so again it’s important to look for independently researched reviews and remember that if something looks too good to be true then there’s every chance that it is.

Watch out for fake brand-name stores

Another common ploy is for scammers to set up a fake store using a legitimate company’s brand name, using a slight variation on the web address. These stores may offer well-known electronics, clothing or jewellery brands at tempting prices.

Fake stores often ask for payment by bank transfer and offer a discount to do so, which gives no room for recourse once the payment has been made. Always check that a website uses a legitimate web address and ensure that you are using a payment method that offers protection.

Use payment methods that provide protection

As well as avoiding payment by direct bank transfers, it’s a good idea to use a payment method that offers you protection when shopping online. This may be a credit card which offers fraud coverage or Paypal, which offers protection for up to $20,000 per item.

Check that websites are secure

A ‘secure certificate’ is software that ensures that information shared between your computer and an online store can’t be intercepted and read. When you’re paying online this is essential.

The best way to check if a website is secure is to look in your browser window and ensure that the web address starts with ‘https’ and a padlock icon is present next to the web address.

This indicates that the website has a valid digital security certificate and the payment details that you enter will be secure. Avoid entering any sensitive information, whether that’s payment details, a password or anything else, into any website that doesn’t display the padlock icon and have a URL that begins ‘https’.

Avoid saving passwords in your browser

When checking out from an online store, it can be tempting to click ‘yes’ when asked by your browser whether you would like your password to be saved. It may save you time, but it can also make it easier for scammers to obtain your password and payment details, particularly if you lose your device.

Best practice for password security is to have a unique and ‘strong’ password for each individual log-in and use a password manager to keep track of them, rather than saving them directly within your browser.

Be aware of Australia Post scams

Fraudulent AusPost parcel update emails and text messages are currently circulating which ask recipients to click a link to update their delivery details. These links click through to fake Australia Post websites which ask for personal and financial information in order to steal it.

The messages can be very convincing, so it’s best to treat all incoming communication with caution and remember that Australia Post will never message you to ask for financial information or a payment.


Don’t forget to check your delivery address

At checkout, remember to check what delivery address you have listed. You might have previously received your online shopping via a work address, so check that the store hasn’t automatically selected that address and update to a home address or parcel locker for safe collection when working from home.

Following these tips should help you to stay safe when shopping online, but if you are concerned about the security of your accounts and information, please contact us during business hours on 1300 747 747 or send us a secure email via Online Banking.


Qudos Mutual Limited trading as Qudos Bank ABN 53 087 650 557 AFSL/Australian Credit Licence 238 305. The information in this article is of a general nature and has been prepared without considering your objectives, financial situation or needs. Before acting on the information, consider its appropriateness to your circumstances.

Published May 2020