Fair Go: Invercargill woman falls victim to sophisticated online scam while toy shopping

Fraudulent online toy stores are using the home addresses of unsuspecting Kiwis, as well as local domain names, to deceive shoppers into buying their products.

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What looked to be a legitimate New Zealand website didn't pan out. Source: Fair Go

A mum in Invercargill got in touch with Fair Go after realising she’d been caught in a scam. She’d been on the hunt for an inflatable Disney Frozen Playland toy but “none of the main stores” seemed to have it in stock.

She came across the website, which appeared to her as a legitimate online toy shop. It had a URL, but when she received the tracking details, she discovered the shipping company was based in the United States.

“I checked the tracking number and within a couple of days of the item actually being shipped, it said it ended up someplace in California."

She emailed the helpdesk but never got a response.

Fair Go has tracked the website’s domain to an address registered in Germany, along with a dozen other toy stores with what appear to be New Zealand domain names.

Two of the sites have phone numbers and physical addresses in Auckland in the suburbs of Mt Eden and Newmarket.

After Fair Go visited one of the addresses and left a message, the programme was contacted by someone living there, who said they'd never heard of the website and had no idea their home had been picked at random.

They said the discovery was "disturbing" and it left their home address vulnerable “because it's on a website that's obviously being used as a scam”.

The other physical address Fair Go investigated didn’t exist.

Toy World owner/operator Phillip Bramley says he hasn’t come across such a level of sophistication in the business and described it as “frightening”.

He says retailers are hearing from customers “on a daily basis” who have been scammed and the downstream effects of Covid-19 have created a perfect storm.

“This year of all years with the shipping delays have really put some pressure on the supply lines.

“It's either late or it's not coming at all, so people are starting to get desperate ... We're already experiencing shortages and outages that we've never seen before."

Bramley’s advice to shoppers, ahead of Christmas, is to “do your homework and get in early”.

“Even around the world, the pricing of the toy is relatively similar, within 10 per cent or 20 per cent. For it to be half the price that it is everywhere else, how can it be real?”