What you need to know to avoid being scammed online

September 16th, 2020

Teens and young adults might be confident online, but this doesn’t always protect them from scammers. In 2019, young Australians lost more than $5 million to scams, and the ACCC warns that the scamming of young people is a fast-growing crime.

Unfortunately, many victims feel too embarrassed to ask for help. And some teens who’ve been scammed may keep quiet because they’re worried that adults will blame them, or because they don’t know their rights.

As parents, it’s important we explain to teens that scamming is a really common crime which can happen to anyone. Being scammed doesn’t mean you are “stupid” – and you don’t have to put up with it.

Which scams target young people?

The most common way that young Australians fall victim to scamming is through online shopping scams. These include:

  • Fake online stores promising luxury goods at very low prices. Their websites and social media may look legit, but when you pay for the goods, they don’t arrive.
  • Online auction scammers, who contact you offering a “second chance” to bid on an item, if you’ll pay outside of the auction site’s secure payment facility. In fact, the item has already been sold, and your money disappears.
  • Fake sellers on sites like eBay, Gumtree or Facebook Marketplace, who persuade you to pay for the items in advance, then don’t deliver them. Sometimes these scammers claim to be travelling and promise that someone else will make the delivery.
  • Fake buyers on those sites, who send you fake receipts or fake screenshots of payments, pretending to have paid you for an item, and hoping you will hand the item over without checking your bank account. These scammers may also claim (falsely) to have overpaid you, and ask you to transfer the “balance” back to them.

Other scams include:

  • Video game scams, which encourage young people to hand over money, gift card codes, login details, or their parents’ banking details. Sometimes scammers will approach a young person individually, pretending to be a friendly fellow gamer. Young people might also be directed to scam websites, which appear to sell gaming items.
  • “Sextortion” scams, where a stranger claims to have nudes or sexual videos of the victim, and threatens to release these unless the victim hands over money or more pictures.
  • Acting and modelling scams, which charge upfront for lessons or photo sessions that never happen.
  • Employment scams, which promise easy, well-paid jobs if you will pay for a “starter kit” or “training” upfront.

Think before you buy

When shopping online:

  • Stick to websites which start with a closed padlock symbol and “https”.
  • Search for reviews by people who’ve bought these products before. (Don’t trust reviews on the seller’s website.)
  • Be suspicious if the prices are amazingly low, or if the products sound too good to be true.
  • Do an internet search using the exact words in the advertisement, in case it’s been flagged as a scam.
  • Buy from companies with a normal street address, phone number, and email address.
  • Check the seller’s terms and conditions. It’s a bad sign if they don’t list any.
  • Use strong, unique logins for online stores – don’t reuse the passwords for your email account or bank account.

And when buying or selling from individuals, check out the person’s profile and any reviews from people who’ve bought their stuff before.

Learn to spot a scam

Beware of any business or individual who:

  • Asks you to pay them in unusual ways, such as gift cards, electronic funds transfer, money orders, or electronic currency like Bitcoin.
  • Asks for your banking details, identity documents, passwords, or remote access to your computer.
  • Contacts you out of the blue, promising money, prizes or jobs you don’t remember applying for.
  • Asks you to hold onto money for them, or transfer money for them.

And always keep an eye on your bank statements, including any small withdrawals you don’t remember making.

If you have been scammed

It’s important to:

  • Contact your bank immediately and try to arrange a charge-back.
  • Change your passwords and PINS if you think they’ve been compromised.
  • Report it to Scamwatch or the Australian Cyber Security Centre.
  • If the scam involved sexual images or videos, contact the eSafety Commissioner.
  • If the scamming happened on social media or an auction site, report it to the site.
  • If you are upset, speak to someone you trust, or contact a counselling service like Kids Helpline 1800 551 800 or Lifeline 131 114.

To learn more about scams and how to avoid them, check out: