This Scams Awareness Week, which runs from 21–25 May 2018, Australians are urged to be on the lookout for threat-based impersonation scams by taking a moment to ‘Stop and check: is this for real?’
In these scams, scammers pretend to be from a government agency or well-known company. Their aim is to scare you into parting with your money or personal information and if you don’t, they threaten you with fines, disconnecting your internet, taking you to court, arrest or even deportation.
Is this for real?
What would you do if you received a call from someone saying they were from the Tax Office and that you had to pay your tax debt immediately or you’d be arrested? Or if someone called you and said they were from Telstra and that they needed remote access to your computer otherwise your service would be disconnected?
It would be understandable if your reaction was to panic, but this is exactly what scammers want you to do. Instead Australians are being urged to ‘Stop and check’ and ask ‘Is this for real?’ Scammers’ threats can seem genuine and they are frightening. They make you feel as if you’ve done something wrong or that you must do what they say immediately or suffer the consequences.
And scammers are very active in the community. Last year, the consumer watchdog the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s Scamwatch received almost 33,000 reports of various scams. More than $4.7 million was reported lost; while more than 2800 people have given personal information to the scammers.
How the scams work
Scammers impersonate government officials and say you have a tax debt or that there are problems with your Centrelink benefits, immigration papers or visa status, and you need to pay the debt or other fees to fix the problems.
Scammers also pretend to be from trusted businesses, including Australia Post, energy or telecommunications providers, banks and agencies such as the police. They may ask for remote access to your computer to fix a problem or email you fake invoices or fines, and threaten to cancel your service or charge you penalty fees if you don’t pay them immediately.
If the scammer sends an email, it is likely to include an attachment or a link where you can download proof of the ‘bill’, ‘fine’ or ‘missed delivery details’ but opening the attachment or downloading the file could infect your computer with malware.
Tips to protect yourself
- When you have been contacted unexpectedly - whether over the phone, by email, mail, in person or through social media – always consider the possibility that it may be a scam.
If you’re unsure whether the call or email is genuine, verify the identity of the contact through an independent source, such as a phone book or online search, then get in touch with them to ask if they contacted you. Don’t use the contact details provided by the caller or in the message they sent to you.
Don’t open suspicious texts, pop-up windows or emails and don’t click on links or open attachments – just delete them.
Never give anyone remote access to your computer if they’ve contacted you out of the blue – whether through a phone call, pop up window or email –even if they claim to be from a well-known company like Telstra.
Never send money or give your bank account details, credit card details or other personal information to anyone you don’t know or trust, and never by email or over the phone.
A government agency or trusted business will never ask you to pay by unusual methods such as with gift or store cards, iTunes cards, wire transfers or bitcoin.
Don’t be pressured by a threatening caller. Hang up then check whether their story is real.
Don’t respond to threatening emails or voicemail messages asking for you to call someone back.
If you’re still unsure, speak to a trusted friend or family member about what has happened.
Have you been scammed?
If you’ve sent money or shared bank or credit card details, immediately contact your financial institution. They may be able to stop a transaction, or close your account.
If you’ve given your personal information to a scammer, visit IDCARE, Australia and New Zealand’s not-for-profit national identity and cyber support service. IDCARE can work with you to develop a plan to tackle your situation and support you through the process.
As scammers are often based overseas, it is extremely difficult to track them down. Warn friends and family about these scams.
People aged 65 and over have been particularly vulnerable to these scams, and have reported the highest losses. Young people, people from non-English speaking backgrounds and people experiencing financial hardship have also been affected.
For more tips
For more tips and information about various scams, where to get help or to report a scam, visit the Scamwatch website
Read about how people have been caught by scams.
(All victims agreed to share their story when submitting their report to Scamwatch and their personal details have been changed).
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