Online scams and how to avoid them

Article published 2 August 2023

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Scams are on the rise, and they’re getting harder to spot

Online Scams

A recent survey by consumer advocate CHOICE has found that 9 out of 10 people believe they have been targeted by at least one scam in the last year, and 50 per cent say that they are getting at least one a week. 88% of people said that these scams are getting harder to spot.

In the past 12 months, the financial ombudsman has received 6,048 complaints about scams, 46 per cent more than the year before. The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) estimates that Australians lost 3.3 billion dollars to scammers last year.

This is coming at a time when more of us are struggling with rising costs of living. So how can we protect ourselves?

Experts say that the best thing you can do is stay informed and think before you click, especially if you are being asked to enter personal details or to send money.

Common types of scams

One of the things that is making it harder to spot scams is that there are so many different types, with new schemes popping up all the time.

Some common scams include:

  • Copycats of well-known shopping websites – red flags include spelling mistakes, low quality web pages, deals that are too good to be true, strange web addresses and unusual payment methods such as bank transfers.
    • It is a good idea to check for a contact page, terms and conditions or a privacy policy on the website – these should be available to customers and should look professional.
    • Does the website list an ABN? If you search this ABN, does it come up with the name of the retailer you are trying to buy items from?
    • You can also use google the web address of the site and the word ‘reviews’ or ‘scam’.
  • Text messages or emails asking you to confirm your details to pay a bill, or to receive money or a package – they may also pose as your super fund.
    • Sometimes scammers are even able to make it look like you have received a text message from Australia Post or a bank – so always be sure not to click links and contact your service provider directly to confirm that this is them. Use contact details from a trusted source or type the URL into a browser yourself to be sure.
    • Your bank, super fund, telco or AusPost will never ask you to provide your details or password – they already have them.
  • Someone pretending to be romantically interested in their target.
    • Never send money to someone who you have never met. These scammers are very convincing.
    • Talk to someone else if you are worried you are being targeted by this type of scam.
  • Someone pretending to be interested in buying items listed on websites such as Facebook marketplace or Gumtree.
    • Never send bank details if you are selling items online.
  • Emails notifying you that rewards points are expiring and asking you to spend them, along with a link asking for personal details.
    • This allows scammers to steal the points and use the other information for identity fraud.
  • Impersonating family members and asking for money to be sent to a new account.
    • Call before you send any money! Do not transfer money to a new bank account without confirming the person is who they say they are.

More strategies to avoid online scams

The best way to avoid these scams is to have up-to-date information on what scams are currently making the rounds, but with new schemes popping up all the time, this isn’t enough.

The ACCC recommends not to click any links, but to only use trusted sources. If you receive an email that seems to be asking you to login to an account or enter other information, it is best to avoid clicking the link and login yourself via your browser so you can be sure that you are logging in to the correct website. Otherwise, use official contact details to speak with the organisation directly.

Make sure you use secure passwords and change any that have been leaked in a data breach. Try to use a different password for each site that you use – easier said than done, of course!

If the email or message you have received makes you feel pressured or stressed, or says that you must take action urgently, it is more likely to be a scam – stop and think, discuss with someone else for advice, or contact the company directly using trusted contact information before taking any action. You might use contact details from a bill or other official communication, or otherwise enter the website URL yourself to be sure it is the correct one.

It is the same advice we have all heard before, but it bears repeating – do not click any links in suspicious emails, and do not enter your personal details or credit card information without being very sure of where it is going.

Official response

It isn’t just up to consumers to be wary of online scams. The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has been funded to set up the National Scam Centre, which will be advised by experts from law enforcement, government, consumer advocacy organisations, and the banking sector. They will be working to take scam websites down and working with law enforcement to take down organised rings of scammers.

There are also calls for businesses to do more to protect people from scams – especially banks and telcos. Banks have only stopped around 13% of scam payments in the last year, according to CHOICE.

What to do if you get targeted

  • Contact your bank or card provider immediately to see if they can stop or recover the payment; you can also contact the financial ombudsman if you feel that their response is not good enough.
  • Change your passwords, especially those you use for banking, government services and online shopping.
  • Run an anti-virus scan.
  • If you have lost money you can make a report to the police in person or through ReportCyber.
  • You can also report to ACCC Scamwatch – they cannot help you recover money or find a scammer directly, but they can use your information to shut the scammer down.
  • Talk to IDCare (1800 595 160), Australia’s national identity and cyber support service. They can connect you with a specialist identity and cyber security counsellor.
  • You can also report the scam to a retailer if their name was used to trick you or leave a review online to warn others.
  • Contact Service NSW if you need to replace NSW government documents. If you are outside of NSW, contact the government department that issues driver licences in your states.
  • Seek out support if you need it, such as a financial counsellor or if you just need to talk you can call a crisis line such as Lifeline, who can be contacted at 13 11 14 or through their website.

More information

Even since the time of writing, there are new scams that have popped up and this article only provides some examples. Please consider checking sources such as Scamwatch and CHOICE to stay updated.

Other sources of information include The ACCC’s Little Black Book of Scams, Fair Trading NSW, and factsheets from the Financial Rights Legal Centre.

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