Everyone is vulnerable to scams so everyone needs information about how to identify and avoid being scammed. Some people think that only the gullible and greedy fall victim to scams. The truth is scammers are clever and if you don’t know what to look out for, anyone can fall victim to a scam.
Have you received an offer that seems too good to be true, perhaps a phone call to help fix your computer or a threat to pay money you do not owe, an alert from your bank or telecommunications provider about a problem with your account or even an invitation to ‘befriend’ or connect online? Scammers know how to press your buttons to get what they want.
They are getting smarter, moving with the times to take advantage of new technology, new products or services and major events to create believable stories that will convince you to part with your money or personal details.
However, thanks to the tens of thousands of scam reports received every year, the ACCC has prepared a list of common scams to reveal the secrets and tactics that scammers don’t want you to know.
Be alert to the fact that scams exist. When dealing with uninvited contacts from people or businesses, whether it’s over the phone, by mail, email, in person or on a social networking site, always consider the possibility that the approach may be a scam. Remember, if it looks too good to be true, it probably is.
Know who you’re dealing with. If you’ve only ever met someone online or are unsure of the legitimacy of a business, take some time to do a bit more research. Do a Google image search on photos or search the internet for others who may have had dealings with them.
Do not open suspicious texts, pop-up windows or emails – delete them. If unsure, verify the identity of the contact through an independent source such as a phone book or online search. Don’t use the contact details provided in the message sent to you.
Keep your personal details secure. Put a lock on your mailbox and shred your bills and other important documents before throwing them out. Keep your passwords and pin numbers in a safe place. Be very careful about how much personal information you share on social media sites. Scammers can use your information and pictures to create a fake identity or to target you with a scam.
Beware of unusual payment methods. Scammers often ask for payment by wire transfers, preloaded cards and even Google Play, Steam, or iTunes cards and Bitcoin. These are nearly always a sign that it is part of a scam.
Keep your mobile devices and computers secure. Always use password protection, don’t share access with others (including remotely), update security software and back up content. Protect your WiFi network with a password and avoid using public computers or WiFi hotspots to access online banking or provide personal information.
Choose your passwords carefully. Choose passwords that would be difficult for others to guess and update them regularly. A strong password should include a mix of upper and lower case letters, numbers and symbols. Don’t use the same password for every account/profile, and don’t share your passwords with anyone.
Beware of any requests for your details or money. Never send money or give credit card numbers, online account details or copies of personal documents to anyone you don’t know or trust. Don’t agree to transfer money or goods for someone else: money laundering is a criminal offence.
Be careful when shopping online. Beware of offers that seem too good to be true, and always use an online shopping service that you know and trust. Think twice before using virtual currencies (like Bitcoin) – they do not have the same protections as other transaction methods, which means you can’t get your money back once you send it.
If you’ve lost money to a scam or given out your personal details to a scammer, you’re unlikely to get your money back. However, there are steps you can take straight away to limit the damage and protect yourself from further loss.
Contact Horizon Bank on 1300 366 565
If you’ve sent money or personal banking information to a scammer, contact us immediately. We may be able to stop a money transfer or cheque, or close your account if the scammer has your account details. We may be able to perform a ‘charge back’ (reverse the transaction) if your credit card was billed fraudulently.
Recover your stolen identity
If you suspect you are a victim of identity theft, it is important that you act quickly to reduce your risk of financial loss or other damages.
Contact IDCARE – a free service that provides support to victims of identity crime. IDCARE can help you to develop a response plan to take the appropriate steps for repairing damage to your reputation, credit history and identity. Visit the IDCARE website at www.idcare.org or call 1800 595 160.
Apply for a Commonwealth Victims’ Certificate – a certificate helps support your claim that you’ve been the victim of identity crime and can be used to help re-establish your credentials with government or financial institutions. Visit the Attorney-General’s Department at www.ag.gov.au (or call 02 6141 6666) to learn more about protecting and recovering your identity.
Contact a counselling or support service
If you or someone you know has been scammed and may be suffering from emotional stress or depression, please talk to your GP, local health professional or someone you trust. You may also consider contacting counselling or support services, such as:
Lifeline – when you need support in a crisis, contact Lifeline on 13 1114 (24/7) or visit www.lifeline.org.au
Beyondblue – for information about depression or anxiety, contact beyondblue on 1300 224 636 or visit www.beyondblue.org.au
Kids helpline – telephone and online counselling and support service for young people aged between five and 25 years. Contact Kids helpline on 1800 551 800 or visit www.kidshelpline.com.au
Financial Counselling Australia – if you are in financial distress call 1800 007 007 to talk to a free financial counsellor or visit www.financialcounsellingaustralia.org.au
How the scam works
Dating and romance scammers create fake profiles on legitimate dating websites, mobile apps or social media platforms like Facebook using photos and identities often stolen from other people. They use these profiles to try to enter into a relationship with you that can run for months or even years, just so they can get a hold of your money. The scammer will ask for money to help with illness, injury, travel costs or a family crisis. They are heartless and will lie to you to take advantage of your better nature.
Scammers will usually be overseas and have an excuse for why they are there, such as being on military service, working as an engineer or caring for a friend or relative. They are never who they say they are and some cunning scammers may even send small gifts. This is only part of their grand plan to get even more money out of you late
Scammers are known to blackmail their targets using pictures or video of you that you don’t want anyone else to see.
How the scam works
Investment scams come in many forms including cryptocurrency purchase, binary options trading, business ventures, superannuation schemes, managed funds and the sale or purchase of shares or property. Scammers dress up ‘opportunities’ with professional looking brochures and websites to mask their fraudulent operations. They often begin with a phone call or email out of the blue from a scammer offering a ‘not-to-be-missed’, ‘high return’ or ‘guaranteed’ opportunity. The scammer usually operates from overseas, and will not have an Australian Financial Services licence.
Computer prediction software scams promise to accurately predict stock market movements, the results of horse races, sports events or lotteries. They are simply a form of gambling disguised as investments. Most of the schemes or programs do not work and buyers cannot get their money back. In many cases the supplier simply disappear.
Superannuation scams offer to give you early access to your super fund, often through a self-managed super fund or for a fee. The scammer may ask you to agree to a story to allow the early release of your money and then, acting as your financial adviser, they will deceive your superannuation company into paying out your super benefits directly to them. Once they have your money, the scammer may take large ‘fees’ or leave you with nothing at all.
If you are under retirement age, watch out for offers promoting easy access to your preserved superannuation benefits. If you illegally access your super early, you may face penalties under taxation law.
If a government authority or trusted company is telling you to pay up, stop, think and double-check.
How the scam works
Instead of offering a prize, money or rebate, these scams use threats designed to frighten you into handing over your money. The scammer may call you and threaten you with arrest or send you an email claiming you owe money for a speeding fine, a tax office debt or an unpaid bill.
During the phone call, scammers will pressure you into paying immediately and tell you the police will be sent to your house if you refuse. Scammers have been known to target vulnerable people in our community, such as newly arrived migrants. They pretend to be Immigration Department officials and threaten victims with deportation unless fees are paid to correct errors in their visas. A very similar scam involves the scammer pretending to be from the Australian Tax Office telling their victims they have an outstanding tax bill.
Scammers also pretend to be trusted companies such as your bank, gas, electricity, water or phone provider. They will threaten to cancel your service or charge you excessive penalty fees if you don’t pay the bill immediately. Sometimes they may impersonate a business like Australia Post stating you have an item to pick up or you will be charged a holding fee every day you don’t pay.
Whatever the case, they try to make you worried and act without stopping to think and check that the story is true.
If the scam is sent by email, it is likely to include an attachment or link to a fake website where you will be asked to download proof of the ‘bill’, ‘fine’ or ‘delivery details’. Opening the attachment or downloading the file will result in infecting your computer with malware (see page 16).
If you are asked to provide payments before receiving goods or money, think twice.
How the scam works
Scammers tell you out of the blue that you are entitled to money, precious gems, gold or valuable shares but you need to make upfront payments to get them. You will never receive what was promised and there will always be an excuse for why you have to pay more. If you pay the fees, you will lose your money.
Rebate or reclaim scams involve a scammer telling you that you are owed money for reasons such as overpaid taxes, bank fees or some sort of compensation. However, before you can get your money you are asked to pay a small administration fee.
With inheritance scams, scammers pose as lawyers, bankers or foreign officials and tell you that you are entitled to a large inheritance or offer you a share in a scheme because you have the same name as someone who died. They often use official-looking documents and ask you to make payments for fees and taxes before you can receive the inheritance. They can also ask for your personal details to fill out ‘official paperwork’. This means that you might have your identity stolen as well as your money.
Unexpected money scams involve scammers telling you they need your help to secure a large fortune which they are desperately trying to transfer out of their country. They may claim the fortune is a hidden stash of money, gold or assets abandoned by a corrupt government or official and if you agree to receive it they will give you a large share when it is safe to do so. Like all of these scams, they will say you first need to pay taxes, bank charges or fees for anti-terrorism and money laundering checks before they can send the money.
These scams commonly come from overseas and ask for payment via wire transfer but may also ask for bank transfers or other payment methods.
If you fall for these scams, you will never receive anything from the scammer and lose any money you sent.
Do not use the contact details provided in the message sent to you – get correct contact details through an independent source such as a phone book or online search.
Don’t be lured by a surprise win – only the scammer takes home a windfall.
How the scam works
These scams try to trick you into giving money upfront or your personal details in order to receive a prize from a lottery, sweepstake or competition that you never entered. Scammers claim that you need to pay fees or taxes before your ‘winnings’ or prize can be released. You may also have to call or send a text to a premium rate phone number to claim your prize.
Scratchie scams involve getting mail containing glossy brochures and a number of scratchie cards, one of which will be a winner. To make it more believable, it will often be second or third prize. When you call to claim your prize, the scammers will ask for fees or taxes to be paid before you can get your winnings.
Lottery scams may use the names of real overseas lotteries to claim that you’ve won cash, even though you never entered into them. Scammers normally ask for fees or taxes to release the funds. They will also tell you they need your personal details to prove you are the correct winner but then use this information to steal your identity or money from your bank account.
Travel prize scams involve scammers claiming you’ve won a free holiday or airfares. In fact, what you’ve actually won is the chance to buy accommodation or flight vouchers. These travel vouchers often have hidden fees and conditions, or may be fake and worthless. Similarly, scammers may offer you amazing discounted holiday packages that just don’t exist.
Fake vouchers and gift cards involve scammers sending you an email or text message or a social media message claiming you have won a gift card for a well-known retailer but you need to provide some details before you can claim it. This is an attempt to get personal information which can be used for identity theft or to target you with another scam. Offers like these have also been known to deliver ransomware on your device.
Scammers love the ease of online shopping too.
How the scam works
Consumers and businesses are increasingly buying and selling online. Unfortunately, scammers like to shop online for victims.
Scammers can create very convincing fake retailer websites that look like the real thing, including on social media like Facebook. The biggest tip-off that a retail website is a scam is the method of payment – be wary if you are asked to pay by wire transfer or other unusual methods.
An online auction scam involves a scammer claiming that you have a second chance to buy an item that you placed a bid on because the winner has pulled out. The scammer will ask you to pay outside of the auction site’s secure payment facility; if you do, your money will be lost you won’t get what you paid for and the auction site will not be able to help you.
The online classifieds scam is a common scam targeting both buyers and sellers. Buyers should beware of scammers who post fake ads on legitimate classifieds website.
The ads can be for anything from rental properties to pets, used cars or cameras, and will often be cheaply priced. If you show interest in the item, the scammer may claim that they are travelling or have moved overseas and that an agent will deliver the goods following receipt of payment. Following payment you will not receive the goods or be able to contact the seller.
For sellers, a classified scammer will respond to your advertisement with a generous offer. If you accept it, the scammer will pay by cheque or money order. However, the amount that you receive is for more than the agreed price. In this overpayment scam, the ‘buyer’ may tell you that this was a mistake and will ask you to refund the excess amount by money transfer. The scammer hopes that you will transfer the money before you discover that their cheque has bounced or that the money order was phony. You will lose the money, as well as the item you sold if you have already sent it.
Remember: anything that connects to the internet is vulnerable.
How the scam works
Remote access scammers call you on the phone claiming that your computer is infected by viruses. If you follow their instructions, it will allow them to access and control your computer where they can steal information or install malware. They may also try to convince you to purchase ‘anti-virus’ software, which usually turns out to be overpriced or freely available on the internet.
Malware is a term for any malicious software that can be installed on your computer or other devices including viruses, spyware, ransomware, trojan horses and keystroke loggers.
Keystroke loggers and spyware allow scammers to record exactly what you type on your keyboard to find out passwords and bank details or access personal information and send this anywhere they want. Once installed, scammers can control your email and social media accounts and grab whatever information is on your device, including passwords. They can also use your accounts to send more scams to your friends and family
Ransomware is another type of malware that encrypts or locks your device to prevent you from using it until a payment is made to unlock it. Paying up doesn’t guarantee it will be unlocked or be free from hidden viruses, which can also spread and infect other computers or devices on your network.
Malware is commonly delivered by email and can appear to be from legitimate sources, such as your utility provider, a government agency or even the police purporting to issue a fine. Don’t click on the link or open any attachments that you aren’t absolutely sure about. You may be downloading malicious software instead. These scams target both individuals and businesses.
All scams have the potential for identity theft. Protecting yourself from scams also means keeping your personal information safe.
Identity theft is a threat in every scam
Most people associate scams with attempts to trick you out of your money. However, your information is also valuable to scammers. Scammers steal your personal details to commit fraudulent activities like making unauthorised purchases on your credit card, or using your identity to open bank or telephone accounts. They might take out loans or carry out other illegal business under your name. They may even sell your information to other scammers for further illegal use.
Having your identity stolen can be both financially and emotionally devastating. It can take months to reclaim your identity and the impact of having it stolen can last for years.
Phishing – a scammer contacts you out of the blue via email, phone, Facebook or text message pretending to be from a legitimate business such as a bank, phone or internet service provider. They direct you to a fake version of the business’s website asking for your personal details to verify customer records due to a technical error. They may call imitating a luxury goods retailer claiming that someone is trying use your credit card. They advise you to contact your bank but they don’t hang up from their end and keep the line open.
When you try to call the bank, you are still talking to the scammers who simulate a real call, imitate bank staff and ask for your account and security details. In either case, the scammer captures whatever information you give them and then uses it to access your accounts.
Fake surveys – Scammers offer prizes or rewards such as gift cards to well-known retailers in return for completing an online survey. The survey requires you to answer a range of questions including disclosure of important identification or banking details.
As part of any scam – Scammers often ask for personal information in other scams. In a lottery scam, scammers often ask for a driver’s licence or passport to ‘prove your identity before they can release the prize money’. In dating and romance scams they might ask for information ‘to sponsor their visa application to visit you in Australia’.
Remember: Giving away personal information to a scammer can be just as bad as giving away money. Keep your personal details to yourself and keep them secure.
Scammers will try to trick you into handing over your data by using the names of well-known companies or government departments.
If you think it’s a scam, don’t respond. Use the phone book or an online search to check the organisation’s contact details. Never use the contact details provided in the original request.
If you have provided personal identification information to scammers, contact IDCARE on 1800 595 160
Big income – guaranteed? Unlikely!
How the scam works
Job and employment scams involve offers to work from home or set up and invest in a ‘business opportunity’. Scammers promise a job, high salary or large investment return following initial upfront payments. These payments may be for a ‘business plan’, training course, software, uniforms, security clearance, taxes or fees. If you pay the fee you may not receive anything or not what you expected or were promised.
Some job offers may be a cover for illegal money laundering activities, where you are asked to act as an ‘accounts manager’ or ‘personal assistant’, receive payments into your bank account for a commission, and then pass the money on to a foreign company.
Job scams are often promoted through spam email or advertisements in well-known classifieds and on job seeker websites – even government job seeker websites.
A big danger with these job scams is that you can be asked for a lot of personal details that you should not provide including your tax file number and copies of your passport or driver’s licence. This information could be used later for identity theft.
Money laundering is a criminal offence: do not agree to transfer money for a stranger.
Scammers are heartless and can strike during desperate times of need.
How the scam works
Scammers take advantage of people seeking to donate to a good cause or find an answer to a health problem.
Charity scams involve scammers collecting money by pretending to work for a legitimate cause or charity, or a fictitious one they have created. Often scammers will exploit a recent natural disaster or crisis that has been in the news.
These scams divert much-needed donations away from legitimate charities. Charities must be registered with government – donate confidently by checking their registration first.
Miracle cure scams offer a range of products and services that can appear to be legitimate alternative medicines, usually promising quick and effective remedies for serious medical conditions. The treatments are often promoted using false testimonies from people who have been ‘cured’
Weight loss scams promise dramatic weight loss with little or no effort. This type of scam may involve an unusual or restrictive diet, revolutionary exercise, a ‘fat-busting’ device, breakthrough pills, patches or creams. You may be required to make a large advance payment or enter into a long-term contract to receive ongoing supplies.
Fake online pharmacies offer counterfeit drugs and medicine at very cheap prices, and sometimes provide them without a doctor’s prescription. These drugs may have limited or no active ingredients, which can have lethal consequences for users.
Scammers take advantage of the busy nature of many businesses to swindle them.
How the scam works
Scams targeting businesses come in all sorts of guises and are likely to strike at the busiest times, like the end of the financial year.
A false billing scam is the most common trick scammers use against businesses. Scammers issue fake bills for unwanted or unauthorised listings, advertisements, products or services. The business directory scam is a well-known example, where you receive a bill for a listing in a supposedly well-known directory. Scammers trick you to sign up by disguising the offer as an outstanding invoice or a free listing, but with a hidden subscription agreement in the fine print.
The domain name scam is another ploy used by scammers, where you are deceived into signing up for an unsolicited internet domain registration very similar to your own. You may also receive a fake renewal notice for your actual domain name and pay without realising.
An office supply scam involves you receiving and being charged for products that you did not order. These scams often involve products or services that you regularly order such as stationery and cleaning supplies. Scammers typically call your business pretending that a service or product has already been ordered.
Payment redirection scams involve a scammer using information they have obtained by hacking your computer systems. They then pose as one of your regular suppliers and tell you that their banking details have changed. They may tell you they have recently changed banks, and may use copied letterhead and branding to convince you they are legitimate. They will provide you with a new bank account number and ask that all future payments are processed accordingly. The scam is often only detected when your regular supplier asks why they have not been paid.
Ransomware can be extremely damaging for any business. The best defence is to back up your data regularly and store your back-ups offsite and offline.
You can help others by reporting a scam to the appropriate authorities. Your information will help these organisations build a better picture of the latest scams and warn other people about what to look out for.
The following organisations take reports about particular types of scams.
Report scams to the ACCC via Scamwatch – visit www.scamwatch.gov.au
Stay one step ahead of scammers
Stay one step ahead of the scammers – visit the Scamwatch website to get the low-down on scams that target Australian consumers and small businesses. Find out more about how scams work, how to protect yourself and what to do if you’ve been scammed.
Register with the Scamwatch subscription service to receive free email alerts on new scams doing the rounds.
If you encounter a scam on a website or social media platform, report it to the site so it can be investigated and removed. If the scammers are impersonating a legitimate organisation like a government department or bank, let them know so they can warn others.
You should also consider reporting your scam to other agencies that specifically deal with certain types of scam.
|Type of scam
|Financial and investment scams
|Financial and investment scams Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) – visit www.moneysmart.gov.au or call the ASIC infoline on 1300 300 630
|Fraud and theft
|Your local police – call 13 1444
|Spam emails and SMS
|Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) – visit www.acma.gov.au or call the ACMA Customer Service Centre on 1300 850 115
|Tax related scams
|Australian Taxation Office (ATO) – to report a tax scam or verify whether a person contacting you from the ATO is legitimate:
• call 1800 008 540 or forward your email tax scam to ReportEmailFraud@ato.gov.au
While the ACCC is the national agency dealing with general consumer protection matters, state and territory agencies may also be able to assist you.
|State / Territory
|Australian Capital Territory
|Consumer Affairs Victoria
1300 558 181
|New South Wales Fair
|Northern Territory Consumer
1800 019 319
|Queensland Office of Fair Trading
|South Australia Consumer
|Tasmania Consumer, Building and Occupational Services
1300 654 499
|Western Australia Department of Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety
1300 304 054