If it sounds too good to be true….

Consumer watch-dogs are suspicious of a new online operation targeting seniors. Is it legitimate?

Key Points

  • Seniors are key online scam targets at Christmas
  • Senior Advantage is a discount site that’s criticised by CHOICE and the ACCC
  • The website has been judged to be misleading and not offering real discounts

Scammers are increasingly targeting seniors with online discounts and promises that could cost you a lot of money and distress.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) is warning that seniors are key scam targets because of their accumulated wealth, isolation and lack of familiarity with the internet and new technology.

The lead up to Christmas is a prime time for scammers taking advantage of seniors wanting affordable gifts.

Consumer advocate CHOICE and the ACCC have raised serious questions about one particular website targeting seniors – Senior Advantage.

Senior Advantage recently entered the Australian online world offering those who signed up as members what seem to be discounts across major shopping brands including Woolworths, Coles, ALDI and Bunnings.

CHOICE investigated after National Seniors Australia brought the website to their attention.

Here at NSA, we did our own checks and could see that something was not quite right with the Senior Advantage site and offerings. CHOICE then mobilised their consumer ‘checkers’ and the investigations team who completed a more thorough check which resulted in the published report.

As part of its investigation, CHOICE signed up to Senior Advantage and found disturbing ‘red flags’, which should alert all seniors to be very wary. The verdict: overly inflated shopping discount promises at best. Dodgy and misleading online marketing at worst.

Firstly, the website is based in Lithuania with a CEO that CHOICE’s investigation could not locate or identify apart from what appeared to be stock-shot photograph.

“… there seems to be some funny business going on with Senior Advantage, which is operated by a Lithuania-based company called JSC "Inulti" and describes itself as an "internet innovation and technology company", CHOICE said in its report on the website.

As they say, when an offer seems too good to be true, then it probably isn’t! In mid-October, Senior Advantage announced it was offering a 75 per cent discount of $19, down from the usual yearly fee of $99. But the payment page on the website at the time just said $19 for one year, with no mention of a discount from $99.

On the special-offer page set up to entice people to join, announcements naming the latest member to sign up (first name only) pop up every few seconds, giving the impression that hundreds of people are signing up every day.

There are questionable terms and conditions, such as the right to "discontinue or modify, or temporarily or permanently terminate, the Senior Advantage's Web Site (or any part thereof) with or without notifying you".

CHOICE found that while Senior Advantage promises to find you deals on offer by third parties, it makes abundantly clear that it assumes no responsibility for the legitimacy of any third-party offering.

"We are not responsible for the quality, accuracy, timeliness, reliability, or any other aspect of any product or service offered or provided by a third party," the document reads.

And if you have a dispute with the business, it will have to be addressed through the Lithuanian legal system.

And what about those discounts? Seniors reported to CHOICE that the so-called shopping discounts were no more than what the retailer was offering on their own marketing platforms. In other words, there was no overall discount for being a member.

CHOICE reports that when they clicked the Senior Advantage Woolworths link to “claim this deal” they were taken to what they describe as “stuff that Woolies couldn’t sell, which we paid $19 to view.” Woolworths says it has no connect to Senior Advantage. Similarly with Coles.

CHOICE concluded the Senior Advantage website takes you to freely available retailers’ discount pages

Is it deceptive?

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) says Senior Advantage could be responsible for a number of violations.

"If a business supplies a paid membership service that offers certain benefits to consumers but fails to adequately disclose that these benefits are already available to consumers without a membership, that may be misleading or deceptive conduct in breach of the Australian Consumer Law (ACL)," the spokesperson said.

In addition, defaulting consumers to a more expensive membership option than was initially advertised is illegal.

As for having to settle any disputes in Lithuania, "the issue of jurisdiction can be complex," the spokesperson said. "However, international companies conducting business in Australia are required to comply with the ACL.

"Businesses cannot make misleading representations to consumers or rely on unfair contract terms to limit their obligations under the ACL.

"This may include attempts to restrict any dispute resolution under a contract to the legal system of a foreign country. Consumers that have a claim under the ACL can pursue that claim through the Australian legal system."