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Cybersecurity: Scam Watch!

A hooded figure in a dark room hunched over a screen sending emails, manipulating data, stealing money. It’s an image perpetuated by the media when talking about scams.

The reality is different. Sure there may be basement dwelling, hoodie wearing scammers out there, lone wolves intent on stealing your identity, your money…but equally likely, it’s a well organised tele-sales room with a trained ‘sales’ team working from a script intent on trapping the unwary.

Scammers – and their scams – are increasingly sophisticated. In the first four months of 2024, scammers relieved more than 95,000 Australians of $92.2 million dollars – and these are just the scams reported to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s (ACCC) Scamwatch website.

What is a scam?

A scam is a deceptive scheme or trick used to cheat someone out of money, their identity or other valuable items. Scammers often use false promises, misrepresentation or fraudulent methods to lure victims into giving up their resources. These schemes can take various forms, including phishing emails, fake charities, investment frauds and identity theft.

Ways scammers reach you

Scammers are increasingly inventive and use a number of means to reach you. The most common are:

Text or SMS: messages that often look like legitimate organisations you do business with. Australia Post or FedEx about a parcel delivery, the government about tax or a payment, the bank. The more sophisticated SMS scams spoof a legitimate phone number so the message looks genuine and sometimes pops up in a legitimate chain of messages.

Phone: one in three reported scams are phone scams and most claim to be from well known companies. Most readers will have heard from the purported Telstra worker wanting to fix your internet by taking control of your computer!

Phone scammers will typically make their request sound urgent to get to you act quickly. They generally try to convince you to provide your personal details, bank account details, or remote access to your computer.

Email: Australians lost $77 million to email scams in 2023[1]. Scams are often part of sophisticated ‘phishing’ campaigns, the fraudulent practice of sending emails purporting to be from reputable companies such as the Australian Tax Office, Centrelink, a bank. The goal is to get you to reveal personal information, such as passwords, bank account details or credit card numbers. As with SMS scams, many look professional and often spoof the legitimate email address.

Some phishing scams give the scammer access to your computer so they can access your passwords, get into your online banking and drain your account. Others load malicious software called malware on your computer and demand a ransom – usually in bitcoin – to remove it.

Social media: scams involving social media were up 43 percent in 2023, with losses exceeding $80 million reported. Scammers set up fake profiles on social media, messaging platforms and pretend to be from the government, a familiar company, bank or investment firm. Sometimes they pretend to be friend or family member.

Scammers can learn a lot about you from information shared on social media. Think before completing a quiz or responding to posts designed to get you to share personal information. This information is used to guess your account passwords or target you with other scams.

Website: another high netting form of scam, online scams fleeced Australians of $74 million in 2023. Scammers might create fake websites to look like well-known brands or they might impersonate famous people and make it look like they recommend the product or service. A scam using foreign minister Penny Wong to spruik investments was recently uncovered.

In person: these are the door knockers who offer to fix your roof for a ‘good price’ (paid upfront of course!), pressure you into completing a survey to get your personal details or ask for donations to fake charities.

The Scamwatch website [link to: https://www.scamwatch.gov.au/] has a wealth of information to help you identify how to spot and avoid scams, as well as advice about what to do if you think you may be the subject of a scam.

Stay safe out there!

The information included in this article is provided for informational purposes only and reflects, as of the date of publication, the current opinion of Household Capital Pty Ltd and is subject to change without notice.

[1] ACCC Scamwatch

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