Queensland’s financial and cyber crimes group has shut down three more “fake trader” websites advertising barbecues and fitness equipment, three months after two Latvian nationals were arrested for their alleged roles in setting up a range of similar sites.
Australians continue to be caught out by websites advertising sales on large outdoor items like barbecues and complaints have been made to the Australian Cybercrime Online Reporting Network (ACORN) from shoppers who had been scammed sites promising the delivery of goods, according to Fairfax.
On Tuesday Queensland Police confirmed it had shut down three shopping websites it has identified as fake: www.barbecuecity.com.au, www.gardenoutdoorsales.com.au, and www.topmarineoutboard.com.au.
Investigations into the area of fake trader sites continue after two Latvian nationals were arrested by Queensland Police in June, after allegedly defrauding customers of $250,000 through fake shopping websites.
Fairfax reports the police do not believe the same pair are directly behind the new websites, but are considering links between the newly closed websites and so-called “fake trader” sites that have previously been uncovered.
The three sites closed this month asked for payment details from shoppers but did not deliver the advertised goods, say Queensland Police.
“Anyone who wanted to purchase these items were asked to provide credit card details and also offered a further discount if payment was made via direct bank to bank transfers. Customers who paid the money never received the equipment,” Detective Acting Inspector Brad Hallett said in a statement.
Police advise any shoppers who believe they may have been affected by a similar scam to contact ACORN directly, and recommend only using trusted websites and those that provide buyer protection when making purchases online.
SmartCompany contacted ACORN and Queensland Police for further comment but did not receive a response prior to publication.
Brand trust is key
When the issue of fake trader sites was raised by police earlier this year, Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman Kate Carnell said there was “no doubt” such websites are costing small businesses money.
SMEs can be affected by these sites in a number of ways, she said, from being caught out by scammers themselves, to the effect of shoppers being reluctant to trust online shopping sites more generally.
“For a small business legitimately trading online, you don’t want any reduction in the confidence consumers have with online traders,” she said.
Director of InsideOut PR Nicole Reaney says stories like this present a significant challenge to new online sellers, because establishing brand trust can be difficult if a business enters the online market with no existing reputation.
Smaller operators can overcome these concerns by using a couple of approaches, she says.
The first is to jump on any negative news around online shopping and warn your networks that this occurs.
“Legitimate brands can embed a trusted position by communicating this consumer concern to its existing customers and encouraging them to be careful and share this information,” she says.
The second approach is to make sure there’s an opportunity for customers to connect with a real person through your business page, so customers can feel assured they are dealing with a legitimate person.
Checking in with your shoppers will ensure they feel connected throughout the process, Reaney says.