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Fair Go: Man's gift for his wife that never arrived highlights need to watch out for online scams

Scams come in all forms but some of the scammiest and scummiest trade on our best intentions rather than our fear or greed. We are talking about the good cause that ends badly with an online rip-off.

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An online scam thrives on silence, countdown clocks and pop-up endorsements, among other things. Source: Fair Go

Fair Go asked you, our viewers and online supporter, if claiming “it’s for a good cause” makes you more likely to buy something and 23 per cent agreed it does.

OK - it’s not terribly scientific but it does make us wonder, are soft hearts soft touches - and how do you mend a broken heart and refill an empty wallet?

“I really dislike people that are dishonest. Cuts right through the grain with me,” Malcolm Perano says.

Malcolm has fallen into just such a charitable trap – clicking through a Facebook ad to buy a charm bracelet for his wife that claimed to support Alzheimer’s awareness.

There are so many traps like this online that listing the sites is near pointless - but they frequently use the same tactics to press a sale, so let’s go over those.

• There may be a slick looking website – complete with a countdown clock listing how many minutes you have left to buy, or how many items are in stock. Ask yourself - what’s the rush, why the pressure?

• That site may be flashing pop-up windows or text crawling across the bottom, claiming that in Wellington, Washington or Woolloomooloo someone has just bought one like it. Why is the seller so keen to share this info with you? And why would you believe it’s anything but a programme pulling random place-names off the internet?

• If there is a charitable purpose, dig into the “about” section or other parts of the site. Is it making claims about a charity you have heard of? Can you contact that charity using details you can find independent of that website? Or are they just vague promises that some amount of money is used for good? Be a bit sceptical.

• How are you being asked to pay? Alarm bells should ring very loud if they don’t offer a debit or credit card facility. Bank transfers are irreversible if there’s trouble. A card transaction can be disputed. Bank policies may vary, but Fair Go has seen Visa and Mastercard policy documents that suggest you have 120 days to raise a dispute if your order doesn’t arrive, or arrives broken or faulty, or if it is a counterfeit and you reasonably thought it was a legit item. Pay by card and ask your bank for a chargeback or disputed transaction refund if you have been scammed.

This advice has paid off for Malcom Perano. His bank, Westpac, has made a full refund. It’s taken just two days after Fair Go raised it – almost three months after he’d been taken in by the dodgy site.

He’s happy to be the object of a lesson – to raise awareness - scam awareness - and safer smarter shopping online.