There are many wild, weird and wonderful things you can accomplish with the help of the almighty series of tubes we call the internet. But the web also has a dark side, and it’s important to take steps to ensure you and your kin stay safe online.
Have you or anyone you know ever been a victim of an online scam?
It’s more common than you might think, and the scams are getting more sophisticated. That’s why we reckon it’s crucial to keep your wits about you whenever you’re sharing information, making a transaction, or dealing with people you’ve never met when using the internet.
The video above features actors who are all Trade Me employees by day, but don’t be fooled: these scenarios can and do happen in the real world, so it’s important to trust your gut. When something doesn’t feel quite right, look again, tell someone, call the company you’re dealing with – and above all, make sure you’re confident that who you’re dealing with on the other side of your screen is really are who they say they are.
Let’s look at each scenario from the video above in more detail, how to spot the scam, and how you can avoid falling victim to it.
This type of scam works by impersonating a company you’d usually trust, so they can gain access to your information. It usually manifests as an email that mimics a legitimate company, and it'll ask for your login details on a fake webpage (that looks just like the real one). Once you give them these details, they'll be able to access the real website where other important data like your credit card information may be stored.
The name of the scam is a play on the traditional sport of fishing but the principle is the same – the scammer will set up lures so that unwary internet users will be ‘phished’ and tricked into sharing confidential information.
How do I spot a phishing scam?
If you receive an email from your bank, an online shopping website, the government, or any other company that you’d usually hear from, make sure to read it carefully. Look for these things:
- Spelling and grammatical errors: the scammers will often make mistakes with capitalisation, word choice, and other weird sentences that might make you say “huh?”.
- Transactions you don’t recognise: a BBQ, an expensive pair of shoes, a new phone; sometimes they’ll add a sense of urgency like “click here within 24 hours to cancel this transaction”. Don’t fall for it, and get in touch with the company directly if you’re concerned.
- Check the web address: if you click a link and the web address doesn’t look like it should (e.g. Trade Me should always have ‘www.trademe.co.nz/’ before any web address when you’re using our main website), think twice. Type in the address yourself into the address bar so you know exactly where you are.
- They don’t use your name: generally, the company you’re dealing with will know you and will use your first name when they contact you. This isn’t always the case though, so take that into consideration with the other signs.
You should never pay money by Western Union, telegraphic transfer, bank transfer or overseas money order to complete a transaction, especially when using Trade Me. Note that everyone on Trade Me must have a New Zealand bank account.
If you’re asked to send money to an overseas bank account for any transaction that isn’t to a reputable company, take a second to do some research. It’s a good idea to talk to someone you know that is online-savvy for their advice, email or phone them with your concerns if you have their contact details, and run the person or business’ name through Google to do some research and reduce the chance of being burned. You can also get the advice of Netsafe or your local police.
How do I spot an offshore payment scam?
- Using Western Union or another wire transfer service: if you’re asked to pay this way, be very wary of sending money through Western Union and other similar wire services, as in our experience 97 times out of 100 an anonymous service is used to scam money from victims.
- Asking for a deposit: if you’re being asked to make a deposit before money can be released to you, cut all ties with the person you’re communicating with and report the correspondence and details to Netsafe. This is a well-known scam, and after you make the deposit the promised funds won’t turn up.
- Pushiness: they’ll insist that time is of the essence, and that using an online payment tool is the quickest way to get you your promised goods.
When you’re buying or selling an item online, it’s important to know who you’re dealing with and to be confident you can trust the transaction will take place safely.
If you’re meeting someone to exchange cash for something you’ve bought, meet them in a well-lit public space where there are other people around. You should also consider taking a friend, or at least letting someone know your plan.
How do I avoid people with fake identities?
- Account history: check to see if the person you’re dealing with has an established presence on the website you’re using. For instance on Trade Me we have a feedback system where other traders leave comments on how the person was to deal with.
- They’re anonymous: it’s fairly easy to hide your real identity online. If you are struggling to get a clear picture of this person and whether they’re real, think twice or ask them for more information.
- You get a bad feeling: listen to your gut, and if you're feeling a bit iffy about the deal then don't exchange money or goods until you're satisfied.
Other types of scams to watch out for
The old saying applies: if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.
There are many ways that miscreants will attempt to scam you out of your hard-earned money. Read up on more of them over on our Trust & Safety blog, and use the resources below.
Bear in mind that trading online is definitely not all doom and gloom – but by keeping your blinders off when using the internet it can really make your life easier. We all need to work together to help create a safer online community, and limit the blast radius of those pesky scammers.
You can help spread the word on staying safe online and use these resources to get you and your community schooled up:
Stay safe out there!
The Trade Me team
p.s. A shout-out to Trade Me staffers Wiremu, Sam, Caro, Samantha, and Brandon for guest starring in the video.