By SANDA ARAMBEPOLA
Social media shopping scams have swindled more than $1 million from thousands of unsuspecting Australians already this year.
Online shopping scams on platforms such as Facebook are among the fast-growing methods of ripping off Australians.
Statistics from the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s website ‘Scamwatch’ show so far in 2019, Victoria has been the state with the second-highest number of online shopping scam reports.
By April 2019, $193,000 was defrauded from more than 650 Victorians.
Shanika Lakmali Abeysinghe is one of the hundreds of Victorians who fell victim to shopping scams on social media this year.
The 38 year-old phlebotomist said she thought she was in luck when she came across an advertisement on Facebook for a pair of Skechers shoes at a greatly discounted price.
“I usually buy a lot of accessories and shoes online for various discounts, so while it was a bit over the top discount I did not suspect it as a scam,” Ms Abeysinghe said.
“I received a confirmation email from the seller and also a tracking number to follow the shipment of the products,” she said.
However, when Ms Abeysinghe did not receive an invoice for her transaction along with the confirmation email, she felt a little uneasy.
It was not until she received a scarf at her door instead of the $130 Skechers, that she knew she had been scammed.
“I did not receive any reply from the seller for my emails and could not find the advertisement or the website,” Ms Abeysinghe said.
Fortunately, she was able to retrieve her money through a complaint she made to her bank by providing the emails from her online order as evidence.
“Even though I got my money back, I am not sure whether I will ever do online shopping hereafter,” she said.
“I also think as these scams are happening through their platform, Facebook should take actions in filtering their advertisements, like they did for hate speech.”
Monash University student Mariah Abdou was also scammed by a seller who posted an ad on Facebook Marketplace.
“I contacted someone from Facebook Marketplace and went to meet to buy from him,” Ms Abdou said.
“But he was not a real person and did not show up.”
She said, even though this incident was upsetting, she still prefers to continue her shopping through social media.
“I didn’t report the scam to anybody, I just chose the next ad and continued my shopping,” Ms Abdou said.
Monash University cybersecurity expert Carsten Rudolph said the development of new technology and social media platforms might be the reason for the fast growth in online scams.
“People scamming other people is not a new thing, but it has grown faster probably because there are more ways to reach people over a bigger distance and also there is a lower risk of being caught,” Mr Rudolph said.
Modern society needs to come up with models to overcome these kinds of scams and censoring the social media platforms cannot be the solution, he said.
“We do not want to have these platforms censor free speech and communication, so it is a very tricky thing to demand that the platform should actively prevent it,” Mr Rudolph said.
“It would be really nice to have that, but on the other hand it is really difficult to actually do it in a way that would not change the way how we use these platforms,” he said.
Literacy about how to use these social media platforms safely and have a suspicious attitude towards anything slightly different from what one usually does is the need of the hour, Mr Rudolph said.
“The first step is really to build up this healthy skepticism about what is happening on these platforms,” he said.