Staying safe from scams

If lockdowns and travel bans weren’t enough to deal with, the global pandemic has also provided fuel for a significant increase in another kind of threat altogether – scams.

For large parts of the past 18 months people have been forced indoors – and as they left the outdoors behind, online activity naturally increased.

Whether it was working from home, looking for investment opportunities to make the most of the money that wasn’t being spent on travel, or seeking friendship or romance, a lot of day-to-day activity has been redirected online, which has provided even more opportunity for the criminal scammers out there.

The true cost of scams

Scamming is literally big business. In days gone by you may have been correct in thinking online scammers were individuals working from their dark basement but, the reality today is that many scams are conducted by big, sophisticated businesses with CEOs, CFOs, tech support, salespeople and high-rise offices.1

Scamming is very serious business. In 2020, the ACCC reported that Australians lost over $851 million to scams and made almost 450,000 scam reports to the government website for scam reporting, Scamwatch. Of the $851 million losses that were reported, it's estimated that real losses are significantly higher. After all, you can understand the embarrassment of having to admit you’ve been scammed. Some people simply prefer to try to forget all about it.

Common types of scams

To minimise the chances of being a 2021 statistic, it’s important to be aware of some of the common scams out there.

Investment scams ($328m reported in 2020) This type of scam persuades you to part with money on the promise of a financial opportunity.

Dating and romance scams ($132m reported in 2020) A confidence trick by which someone feigns romantic interest to ultimately get the other party to part with cash, card details or gifts.

Payment redirection scams ($128m reported in 2020) Fraudsters change the bank details on invoices and get money owed to a legitimate company, paid into a fraudulent account and, as soon as the money lands into the fraudsters account, it’s skimmed off-shore.

Shopping scams ($66m reported in 2020) Scammers set up fake retail websites that look like the real deal. Once a purchase is made, the chances of you ever receiving anything you’ve ordered are slim to none. These can include fake online pharmacies that will never send you the goods, or websites offering ‘miracle cures’ for conditions.

Threat-based scams ($11.8m reported in 2020) Hackers send threatening emails or messages demanding money if you don’t comply with their orders.

Remote access scams ($8.4m reported in 2020) Hackers convince people to give them access to their computer by pretending to be from a reputable company for example, a bank or internet provider, and creating a reason why you need to go online.

In addition, the pandemic has seen a rise in ‘phishing’ attacks. Phishing occurs when an email purporting to be from a reputable organisation is received and a link in the email is clicked on. This can load a virus onto the user’s device, providing a scammer with access to everything on your computer, including your photos, copies of personal documents, bank details and more.

Keeping safe from scams

  1. Always be aware that scams exist – be alert at all times.
  2. Only click on an email link which you’re 100% certain is safe (check the sender address – it should always match the business’s website address, and look for spelling mistakes or poor grammar), and never open attachments unless you’re certain they are genuine.
  3. Only click on a link in a text message if you’re certain it’s genuine. Messages from businesses purporting to have a sale on or delivery information for a parcel you have no knowledge of ordering can all be scams.
  4. If online dating, be wary of requests for money after a quick escalation in the relationship. Be careful if things seem ‘too good to be true’ or people are reluctant to communicate face-to-face via video. Do a Google image search of the profile picture used. Drag the picture onto your desktop, and then onto the Google search bar to see if it’s used elsewhere.
  5. Do not respond to unsolicited phone calls that ask for any personal details, or request access to your computer by remote access software. Even if they tell you you’ve been hacked. Hang up immediately. Call the company back via a number you know is theirs, not a number given to you by the person who’s made the call.
  6. Do your research when online shopping. If you find a new online store, search for reviews before placing an order.
  7. Be wary of requests for unusual forms of payment. If a store won’t accept a normal credit card payment and instead asks for payment in gift card or virtual currencies such as Bitcoin, it could be a fraudulent site.
  8. Never give any details about yourself to anyone or any business you don’t know and trust.
  9. Always beware of investment opportunities that seem ‘too good to be true’. Even if they seem to be from a reputable company, always follow up via the company’s own website – not via a link on another site or in a brochure.

For more information on keeping safe online and avoiding scams, the Government’s Scamwatch site is an excellent resource: www.scamwatch.com.au.

Investment scams are rife and, in a world of low-interest rates, any opportunity to earn interest or generate returns can seem appealing.

If you come across a new opportunity, particularly one that offers above-average returns, please do your due diligence on the opportunity and the company offering it to you. Never rush into anything and seek advice from your financial adviser before proceeding.

1 'Proceed with caution', Dave Jacob, Security Operations Manager, ADITS. gemcell.com.au, June - July 2021.