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$70,000 in losses reported from victims of COVID-19-related scams

Sign with Scam warning caution
May 2020
WA ScamNet has received reports from seven victims of scams where COVID-19 was used in the plot to steal a total of about $68,000. 
Most were the victims of fake websites, social media pages and advertisements in which COVID-19 was used as an excuse for why their online purchases had not been delivered.
A Perth-based Chinese student lost $13,800 when scammers called to report her COVID-19 results claiming to be from the Shanghai Medical Centre. After being supposedly transferred to Shanghai Police the student was told she was facing criminal charges, and the scammers demanded money to verify her identity and conduct financial checks to prove her innocence. The student communicated with the police imposters via ‘DingTalk’ and she sent a copy of her passport to the scammers.
Three victims lost a total of more than $50,000 after purchasing farm machinery from fake websites that used the business names ‘Bora Machinery’ and ‘Coastal Machinery’. Victims were directed to another bogus company Australia MD Transport for delivery. Other business names to have used this scam include TQG Farming and Coad Machinery.
These consumers ordered second-hand tractors advertised at discounted prices and when the machinery didn’t arrive COVID-19 travel restrictions were used as a reason for the delay. The websites listed postal addresses that were either those of legitimate businesses or empty parcels of land. ABNs of legitimate businesses were also used. Payments were made by direct bank transfer as credit card or PayPal options weren’t offered, which is a sign that the sale could be a scam. WA ScamNet is currently attempting to have the fake websites closed down so, in the meantime, consumers are urged to exercise caution.
Three other victims lost money from COVID-19-related scams:
  • A mobile phone purchased for $1,000 from a fake Facebook page using the name of a well-known phone retailer saying their store was closed due to COVID-19 as the reason for selling via social media;
  • Another mobile phone purchased for $1,500 from a Facebook Marketplace ad which directs customers to a Facebook page claiming to be a store based in a local shopping centre that is currently closed due to COVID-19. The store doesn’t exist; and
  • Puppy bought from a fake website for $2,000 in which COVID-19 was used as the reason for delayed delivery.
Commissioner for Consumer Protection Lanie Chopping said the increase in online and social media shopping due to COVID-19 store closures has presented scammers with a golden opportunity.
“Scammers are always quick to exploit any situation and are now using the pandemic to give what appears to be credible reasons for bricks and mortar stores doing online and social media sales and using it as an excuse for delivery delays when in fact the product will never turn up,” Ms Chopping said.
“Online and social media shoppers need to be cautious and stick to recognisable and reputable retailers rather than making impulse purchases on unknown websites.
“If the online retailer is asking for a direct bank transfer that is a clear warning sign. Try to always pay with a credit card or via PayPal as there is a better chance you’ll get your money refunded through a chargeback.”
Information and advice on scams is available on the WA ScamNet website where scam reports can be lodged. Enquiries can be made by calling 1300 304 054.

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