Being scam-aware

Scam Awareness Week, in November, is organised by ‘Scamwatch’.

Scamming is now a major concern for Australia, and other countries like the USA and UK with most calls emanating from Kolkata (formerly Calcutta) in India. According to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s (ACCC) Targeting Scams report released in June 2021, Australians lost more $851M to scams in 2020, when scammers took advantage of the pandemic to con unsuspecting people.

Beware: Up until June this year, by accessing home computers, scammers stole more than $7.2M from Australians, an increase of 184% compared to 2020. Almost 6500 Australians reported phone calls from scammers wanting access to home computers and bank accounts.

In June 2021 Scamwatch reported that for the first time, Victoria, significantly impacted by the second wave of Covid, recorded the highest losses nationwide with $49M lost, more than double that in 2019. “We saw scammers claiming government restrictions meant people could not see items in person before purchase. This was a common ruse in vehicle sale and puppy scams, which both had higher reports and losses.”

May 2021 ACCC warning: Australians are being inundated by a new form of scam. Victims are sent text messages asking them to share personal details which are then on-sold – known as ‘smishing’ (SMS phishing). Cyber criminals impersonate legitimate organisations such as banks or delivery companies and request mobile phone users to click a link. Scamwatch says that in just one month smishing scams increased by more than 20%.

In May 2021, the Australian Government posted a warning: “Fake emails claiming they’re from MyGov tell you to open a link to confirm your identity Don’t open the link.”

Scammers are determined to get your money or personal details. Be alert and protect yourself. Scams target people of all backgrounds, ages and incomes. Scams look like the real thing and catch you off guard. Scammers take advantage of new technology, new products or services and major events to create believable stories to convince you to give them your money or personal details.

Tips from Scamwatch

  • If a message or email from a friend seems out of character for them, contact them directly to check that they did send it.
  • When dealing with uninvited contacts via phone, mail, email, in person or online social networking, be aware it may be a scam. If it looks too good to be true, it probably is.
  • Do not open suspicious texts, pop-up windows or click on links or attachments in emails – delete them. Verify the identity via an online search. Do not use the email’s contact details.
  • Don’t respond to phone calls asking for remote access to your computer – hang up – even if they mention a well-known company such as Telstra. Scammers want passwords and personal details from your computer.
  • Keep personal details secure: put a lock on your mailbox, shred bills and important documents before discarding them. Keep passwords and PINs in a safe place. Don’t share personal information on social media sites. Scammers can create a fake identity or target you with a scam.
  • Keep mobile devices and computers secure. Always use passwords, don’t share access with others, update security software and back up content. When accessing online banking, avoid using public computers or WiFi hotspots.
  • Choose difficult to guess passwords; update them regularly. A strong password should include a mix of upper- and lower-case letters, numbers and symbols. Vary passwords for different accounts. Do not share your passwords with anyone.
  • Be careful with whom you connect on social networking sites.
  • Never send money or share credit card details or online account details to those you don’t trust. Don’t agree to transfer money or goods for others: money laundering is a criminal offence.
  • Scammers often ask you to pay via preloaded debit cards, gift cards or virtual currency such as Bitcoin.
  • When shopping online use a service that you know and trust. With virtual currencies (like Bitcoin), you can’t get your money back once it is sent.

Neil Angus MP, Victorian Shadow Minister for Consumer Affairs said, “The incidence of scammers preying on Victorians continues to increase. I urge everyone to continue to remain vigilant – don’t hesitate to delete suspicious emails and hang up on suspicious phone calls. If they are genuine, they will get back to you.”

People who detect a scam, whether or not they have lost money to it, can report it at Scam Awareness Week, in November, is organised by ‘Scamwatch’.