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Fake shipping container ads boosted on Google, Facebook to scam money, say container companies

Aug 9, 2021

newsletters, editors-pick-list, shipping containers, containers, scam, fraud, facebook, google, newcastle herald, newcastle CENTRAL Coast businessman Keith Smith had experienced cyber crime when hackers sent out invoices in his company's name that directed payment to unrelated bank accounts. So he thought he knew what to look for six weeks ago when he needed some shipping containers for storage. Comparing prices online, he found what he needed and paid the $4000 or so directly into the nominated bank account. Ringing on a Friday to question the non-arrival, he was told it would be there on Monday. When Monday came, and he rang again, the number was disconnected. IN THE NEWS: "I went back onto the website, and it had phone numbers for depots all over Australia," Mr Smith, who runs Mardi transport firm SNS Carriers, with his wife, Sonja, said yesterday. "I rang every one of those, but they went nowhere. There was a 1300 number, but when I rang that, it was a printing company in New Zealand. "There had been a couple of little signs before that, when I went back over things, but that's when I woke up to what happened. "My wife reported it to the bank, but I don't like our chances." Unfortunately, the Smiths are by no means the only victims of what legitimate container sales companies say is a sophisticated series of fraud operations using look-alike websites that are then boosted on Google and Facebook searches to appear above legitimate businesses, encouraging customers to pay thousands of dollars for containers that never arrive. Experts say online scammers are constantly searching for new industries or products to infiltrate, and shipping containers appear to have been hit on because the COVID-19 pandemic has led to massive increases in the costs of all areas of shipping. This has led to the cost of containers more than doubling in the past year. The increasing use of shipping containers for "pop-up" businesses and for accommodation and other unconventional uses has also created a diverse market ripe for the picking. Steve Byrnes, managing director of Newcastle-based Container Traders, says he's taken matters into his own hands, to spread the word as widely as possible about the fraudsters, who are giving legitimate operators a bad name as well as ripping off clients. Mr Byrnes pointed to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission's Scamwatch service, which warned late last month against fake shipping container ads, saying Scamwatch had received 29 reports totalling more than $136,000 in the previous week alone. Mr Byrnes believes the real losses are even higher at the moment, putting them at between $150,000 to $250,000 a day in Australia alone. He said it was impossible to tell, yet, where the scammers were working from. He said their websites and advertising usually mimicked legitimate operators very closely, although one "red flag" was that none of the fake website's he'd seen had "" addresses. He said he tried one of the fake ads himself and when someone rang him back it was quickly obvious to him that they knew little about the products they were supposedly selling. Mr Byrnes said he and his company had taken various steps to get the websites taken down and the false advertising blocked. They had "temporary success" with one fraudulent site that was clear breach of their copyright, but he said at least 14 others were still operating. "It's affecting the industry," Mr Byrnes said. "Usually it's easy enough to pick a scam in a group of quotes. But with lots of scammer websites taking the top paid advertising spots on Google, legitimate sellers look like the odd ones out, making it very hard for consumers to spot the scam." Mr Byrnes said the industry was "fighting back" but the tech companies and regulators needed to do more to protect against fraud. CONTAINER CRAFT: Peter Bryant, who's owned Hunter Containers at Edgeworth for about 20 years, said yesterday that he had never heard of online scams targeting containers until recently. "Prices go up and down but 20-foot containers usually sell second-hand for about $1800 but they might go as low as $1500," Mr Bryant said. "But with COVID there's a huge shortage and the prices are up to about $4000 and stocks are very short. "We'd normally have 70 boxes at Edgeworth, and we're down to 50." Mr Bryant said shipping companies usually kept containers for about 10 to 15 years, after which they became too expensive to repair. But they remained strong enough for the various uses that people put boxes to domestically. KEEP UP TO DATE WITH SCAMS AT THE ACCC's SCAMWATCH Our journalists work hard to provide local, up-to-date news to the community. This is how you can continue to access our trusted content: /images/transform/v1/crop/frm/3ArTPYWJ7uTzcYp6Sg47gg6/98458f57-257a-4435-be10-3c29a1ffa41c.jpeg/r0_265_4032_2543_w1200_h678_fmax.jpg

Keith Smith Investments

1 Investments

Keith Smith has made 1 investments. Their latest investment was in Disruptive Multimedia as part of their Seed VC - II on March 3, 2016.

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