Tips to help spot a scam

Purchasing scams have recently been on the rise, with fraudsters active on both sides of a transaction. These scams take place on common ecommerce platforms used by genuine people, such as eBay, Gumtree, Facebook Marketplace and Carsales. Staying alert to the red flags below can help you spot a scammer and avoid falling victim to online fraud.

General Red flags to look out for

Be wary of buyers or sellers who:

  • ask for identification documents such as your driver’s license, passport or Medicare card number (never provide these to someone you don’t know, as it may be used to commit identity fraud)
  • send fake emails that appear to come from ecommerce platforms such as eBay or Gumtree
  • ask you to move to a different platform such as WhatsApp or Messenger to continue the conversation
  • request to use payment methods such as gift cards, money wiring services or PayPal’s ‘Family and Friends’ method (which has limited protections)
  • come up with excuses for why the payment or item is delayed
  • claim they are on deployment in the armed forces, overseas, travelling, or unwell, and so can only speak over email, rather than on the phone, on a video call, or in person.

Look out for these red flags when you’re selling an item

A scammer posing as a legitimate buyer may:

  • falsely claim that they have paid or overpaid you, and request that you return some funds to them
  • email you falsified or altered receipts or money transfer confirmations, claiming to be from companies such as PayPal, PayID®, eBay or your bank
  • ask you to pay upfront for transportation or shipping costs, promising to reimburse you
  • cease communication after you send the item, so that not only have you have lost the item, you have lost money paid for postage and other services too.

Look out for these red flags when you’re buying an item

A scammer posing as a legitimate seller may:

  • put up an advertisement that is fake, or sell items that aren’t rightfully theirs
  • ask you to pay with gift cards or cryptocurrencies
  • advertise prices that are well below the usual selling price – if it sounds too good to be true, it usually is
  • send you pictures of the item which appear to be legitimate, or a picture of themselves (these images are often stolen from the internet or from legitimate advertisements)
  • stop communicating once you pay for the item, and never send it to you.

Case study – puppy buying scams

Scammers used the COVID-19 (Coronavirus) pandemic to their advantage, creating an opportunity to run online scams, including puppy scams. According to the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission (ACCC), opens in new window, Australians lost nearly $300,000 to puppy scams in the first five months of 2020 alone.

In a puppy scam, an individual or business offers to sell a popular breed of dog for a low price. However, after money is transferred to secure the purchase, all communications stop.

The scam

Jenny* wanted to buy a puppy for her daughter’s birthday. She found an advertisement online offering Cavoodle puppies for a low price. She contacted the seller to see if there were any pups available.

Jenny says, “The seller Boris told me they only had one puppy left, so I had to be quick. I was interested, and asked if I could see the puppy in person or via video call. He said no as they apparently had bad reception, but that he could send me pictures. The pictures looked legitimate to me and I really wanted the puppy for my daughter, so I decided to go ahead with it. Boris sent me an email that looked like it was from my bank asking me to transfer money, so I did.”

What happened next

“When I hadn’t heard from him for two weeks after paying, I kept trying to follow up with him, but he kept giving me excuses. I never heard from Boris again. I contacted my bank but they were unable to help me recover the funds I had sent. My daughter and I never got the puppy we were hoping for. If I bought another dog in the future, I would insist on seeing the puppy on a video call, and would only hand over cash when I picked up the dog.”

Case study - selling a phone

Raj* wanted to sell his old phone to make some money to put towards a new one. He created a listing on a common online marketplace, and received a message from a potential buyer, Daniel, shortly after.

A scammer makes contact

“Daniel told me to send him an email directly to discuss the sale further, rather than going through the online platform. He seemed keen to proceed with the sale – he told me he was on deployment in the army and needed a better phone. Daniel asked me to be quick in sending the phone as he needed it urgently before they were deployed. The next day he made the transfer, and sent me a screenshot of his receipt.

A refund request

“Shortly after, he messaged me again saying he’d realised he had accidentally overpaid me, and wanted a refund for the difference. Even though the funds hadn’t landed in my account yet, I was happy to refund him the difference as the receipt looked legitimate.

“A week later, I had sent the item to him and refunded the $250 difference, but still hadn’t received his transfer to my bank account. I wasn’t able to get a hold of Daniel again, he blocked me on email and social media. I was left out of pocket for the actual phone, the money I should have got for selling it, and the ‘refund’ I sent him for the ‘overpayment’.”

*Names have been changed for privacy reasons.

How to protect yourself from online buying and selling scams

Follow the below tips to help keep your identity and your money safe online.

  • Use secure payment options that come with protections, such as PayPal (not PayPal Family and Friends) or a credit card. Be cautious of sellers asking you to pay with gift cards or cryptocurrencies.
  • Where possible, do some research on the buyer or seller and look for reviews.
  • If possible, meet in person to exchange the item and cash.

When purchasing an item online

  • Conduct a reverse image search on Google for the photos of the item you’re buying – you may find the picture of the item already exists on a legitimate ad, or in other fake ones.
  • If it’s not possible to meet in person, ask the seller for a video call so you can inspect the item more closely.
  • If you’re buying an animal, consider putting the purchase on hold until you can see the animal in person. Seek advice from a reputable breeder’s association or vet.

When selling an item online

  • Carefully inspect any emails that claim that the item is paid for.
  • Check your bank account to ensure the funds have cleared before proceeding with the sale.
  • Be cautious of buyers asking to charge them extra to cover transportation costs.

Read our online shopping article for more information on staying safe while shopping online, or visit the ACCC Scamwatch, opens in new window website.

If you’re a NAB customer and believe you may have fallen victim to a scam, please call 13 22 65 immediately and ask for the Digital Fraud and Anti Scam Team.

Helpful resources

How we can help

If you’re a NAB customer and you believe your business or personal accounts have been impacted by fraud or a scam, we’re here to help. Explore the immediate steps you can take to protect yourself and discover when you should get in touch with us to make a report.

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IDCARE is Australia and New Zealand's not-for-profit counselling and support service set up to assist Australians impacted by identity theft and cyber-related crimes.

IDCARE can assist NAB customers to navigate through the process when identity details or credentials have been compromised through fraud or scams. IDCARE is a free service for all Australians.

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Australian Government | Australian Cyber Security Centre (ACSC)

The Australian Cyber Security Centre (ACSC) brings cyber security capabilities from across the Australian Government together in a single location. It’s the hub for private and public sector collaboration and information sharing to combat cyber security threats. ACSC provides topical, relevant and timely information on how home internet users and small businesses can protect themselves from, and reduce the risk of, cyber security threats such as software vulnerabilities, online scams, malicious activities and risky online behaviours.

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Australian Government | ReportCyber

ReportCyber is a secure reporting and referral service for cybercrime and online incidents which may be in breach of Australian law. The ReportCyber website provides a cybercrime reporting mechanism as well as helpful information about cybercrime.

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Australian Competition and Consumer Commission | Scamwatch

Scamwatch provides information to consumers and small businesses about how to recognise, avoid and report scams using publications, videos and other online resources.

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Australian Government | Office of the eSafety Commissioner

The Office of the eSafety Commissioner provides online safety education for Australian children and young people, a complaints service for young Australians who experience serious cyberbullying, and address illegal online content.

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Australian Government | Attorney-General’s Department

The Attorney-General’s Department website provides helpful information and resources about your rights and protections in regards to identity security, freedom of information and cyber security. The Department has developed a range of resources to assist people protect their identity and recover from the effects of identity crime.

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