Scam warning for online shoppers ahead of move to alert level 3

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Mid Canterbury people keen to get back to online shopping are being warned of scammers taking advantage of loosening restrictions with the move to alert level 3.

Fake shopping websites and phishing emails set up to steal personal information and credit card details can look convincing, says Bronwyn Groot, Fraud Education Manager at the Commission for Financial Capability, which runs the Sorted website.

Under Covid-19 level 4 restrictions, online shopping has been limited to essential items, but when New Zealand moves to level 3 on Tuesday, New Zealanders will once again be able to order any item for delivery.

“Watch out for cloned websites of well-known brands,” she says. “The company name might contain an extra letter, or the logo might be slightly different, but otherwise the page looks identical to the genuine website.”

Fake sites will take shoppers’ personal details and credit card numbers but no goods will be sent and the card’s funds could be drained. Personal details could be used as a form of identity theft.

Bronwyn advises shoppers to check sites of well-known brands carefully for slight discrepancies that can give away cloning. If you’re accessing a New Zealand site you haven’t visited before, check the company is registered at the New Zealand Companies Office, and check the domain name is registered at a site such as mxtoolbox.com. All sites should have a refund policy and a physical address. Keep your receipts.

“Be particularly careful shopping through sites of companies based overseas, as once your money leaves New Zealand it’s almost impossible to reclaim,” she said. Check overseas company names are registered with the regulatory body of the country in which they claim to be based.

Shopping scams are among many which have sprung up worldwide since the onset of Covid-19. Others include phishing emails or texts pretending to offer updates or access to testing centres, cold calls with offers of investments in industries experiencing heightened demand due to the virus, and phone calls from scammers pretending to be health officials asking for personal information or credit card details to pay for test results.

“We’ve also heard that a recurring scam in which callers claim to be from a phone company needing remote access to a person’s computer to avoid internet failure is doing the rounds again,” Bronwyn said. “If you get a call out of the blue asking for any kind of personal information, say you’re busy and will call them back. Then hang up and ring the official number of the organisation they say they represent to check if the call was genuine.”

She said that while New Zealand scam numbers are difficult to gauge, the UK National Fraud & Security Centre reported a 400 per cent increase in cyber scammers exploiting Covid-19, and Google was reportedly blocking an extra 20 million coronavirus phishing scams a day.

“It’s a sophisticated business; no one is immune from being scammed. Just be aware of the red flags, and tread carefully.”