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Scammers Using Trusted Brands To Trick Online Shoppers Out Of Thousands

Jo Truman was just looking for a cheap pair of boots to wear this winter, so when an ad popped up on her Facebook feed showing what she thought were R.M Williams leather boots with huge discounts, she didn't hesitate.

But after she made her payment, she quickly realised the money had been withdrawn from her account twice. Then, nothing ever arrived in the mail.

"I needed cheap boots, and they're high quality so I got drawn into it," she said.

Upon investigation, she found that genuine R.M Williams boots retail for around $600-$800, but she's not the only person who's been fooled by the bargain buy.

Jo Truman
Jo Truman realised she'd been the victim of a scam. Photo: 10 News First.

This year, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s (ACCC) Scamwatch has received 78 reports of online shopping scams related to RM Williams Boots, with $5,602 in losses.

The ACCC has dealt with almost 3,000 reports of online shopping scams since January and it has cost Australians $1,469,442.

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These scams "are very convincing", said ACCC Deputy Chair Delia Rickard.

"One of the common forms is for them to replicate a real website with a real product -- a high end product at a terrific price," she said.

The sites rip off real photos of products and use sophisticated websites to fool consumers into a purchase, she said.

scam rm williams
R.M. Williams usually retail for hundreds of dollars, but these were being 'offered' for just $29. Photo: Facebook / 10 News First.

Then these scam artists either send you nothing, or a shoddy product. In many cases, buyers who bought these fake R.M Williams boots received cheap hats, scarves or jewellery instead.

It's the advertising on social media sites like Facebook that tricks most people, according to Director of UNSW Canberra Cyber Nigel Phair, because it’s easy to mistake for real adverts.

Online websites are "going to take money from pretty much anyone and if it looks to be believable and [the scammers] have got a bona fide way of paying for it, [websites] are going to accept advertising on their platforms," he said.

But staying on top of fake accounts and posts online isn't so easy.

Facebook's guidelines state that ads must not contain deceptive, false, or misleading content, including deceptive claims, offers, or business practices.

scam rm williams
If deal looks too good to be true, it usually is. Photo: 10 News First.

A spokesperson from Facebook said it took down more than 1.2 billion pieces of spam from July to September 2018.

"We also disabled more than 750 million fake accounts," the spokesperson said.

Meanwhile, the ACCC reports all scams that it is made aware of to the companies in question, too.

"It's a cat and mouse, arms race if you like" said Delia Rickards.

"Every time [companies] get better at identifying something, the scammers do something new. It's just imperative that resources are put into these scams and stopping them."

The adage remains the same: "If it seems too good to be true, it probably is."

Tips to avoid being scammed:
  • Be suspicious if the price seems too cheap.
  • Check what others have had to say about purchasing from the site, people can be quick to let others know about scam sites.
  • When making online payments, only pay for items using a secure payment service like PayPal.
  • Avoid any arrangement with a stranger that asks for up-front payment.