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Man receives a scam call.

If it’s too good to be true, it usually is.

Since much of our world is online, from education to business to recreation – much of the modern world depends on cyberspace.

Yet how often do we review our knowledge and awareness of scams? Scams are costing Australians billions of dollars a year. As of 2020, Australians of lost 175 billion in financial scams. This doesn’t include the pain and loss the emotional and mental fatigue that scams have played on the most vulnerable on victims or potential victims.

Scams also happen all over the world in order to extract personal details from a potential victim, and they are also getting cleverer.

We can’t completely counteract scams, as that’s impossible. Realistically, we can prevent them in being more aware and how scams work.

The anatomy of a scam:

Most scams follow this format of approach, communication and payment in the hope of scamming a potential victim. Understanding these basic parts of this scam can help you be more aware of the many scams occurring and being on the lookout for new ones in the future.

1: The approach: delivery method

When a scammer approaches you, it always comes with a story designed to make you believe in a lie. The scammer will pretend to be something or someone that they are not. They will try to gain your trust, or sympathy or love. Scammers may pose as government officials, an expert investor, a lottery ticket official or even a romantic admirer.

In order to contact you with this deception and lies, the scammer tries a one or more of delivery methods.

Online

Email a favoured delivery method for scammers. It is cheap and a simple way to communicate with many on a large scale. Phishing or ‘fishing” emails that ‘fish’ for your personal information are the most common scam type.

Social Networking Platforms, Dating Websites, Dating Apps, Dating Forums: allow a scammer to ‘befriend’ you and wish to enter your life, gain your trust in the hope that you will disclose your own personal information.

Online Shopping, classifieds and auction websites or apps:  are used by scammers to target both buyers and sellers, with initial contact often through reputable and trusted websites or fake websites that look that the real thing. Look for secured payments options and beware of unusual payment options such as wire-transfer, Bitcoin or pre-loaded money cards. Credit cards usually offer some protection.

Over the Phone

Phone Calls: are made by scammers to both homes and businesses in a variety of scams, from threatening tax scams to offer of prizes, to “help” of computer viruses, to fake charities. The availability of cheap Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP), telephone calls means that call centres can operate offshore with telephone numbers that look like they’re local numbers. Telephone caller identification can easily be disguised and is one of the many tricks’ scammers use to make you believe that they’re someone else.

SMS text messages: are used by scammers to send a while ranges of scams including competition or prize scams. If you respond, you may be charge at premium rates or find yourself signed up to a subscription service. It is safer not to respond, or click on links in text messages unless you know who they came from. They can also contain attachments or links to malicious software in a guise of photos, songs, games, or apps.

At your door:

Door to door scams: usually involve the scammer promoting goods or services that are not deliver or are of a very poor quality. You may even get billed for work that you did not want or agreed to. A common door-to-door scam is carried out by dodgy traders who move form place to place and do shoddy home repairs or just take your money and run.

Legitimate business can sell door-t-too, but must clearly identify themselves and their company and follow other rules. You have specific rights when it comes to door-to-door sale practices (including the chance to change your mind – find out more at www.accc.gov.au/doortodoor.)

Scammers can pose as a fake charity workers to collect donations. They will take advantages to recent events like floods and bushfires. Before donating ask for identification and see their official receipt book.

 If you wish to research to make sure of the legitimacy of a charity, please go to the Australian Charities and Not-For-Profits Commission Website. You can look up a charity to see their charity register number. 

Bulk mailing is still used to send lottery and sweepstake scams. Investment opportunities, Nigerian scams and fake inheritance letters. A glossy brochure is no guarantee that an offer is legitimate.

Regardless of the delivery method they use, their story is always the bait, and if you bite, the scammer will attempt to move you to the next stage.

2. Communication and Grooming

Scammers use a variety of tools to trick their victims and potential victims. When you are aware of these tricks you are less likely to fall for their scam, however, scammers are continually on the hunt for deceivably ways to lure victims.

  • Scammers will spin an elaborate story to make you fall for their charm, but this is only their way to get them – the scammer – what they want.
  • They use your personal details as a way to make you believe that you have meet them before (even online) and make the scam look legitimate.
  • Scammers may contact you regularly in order to built your trust, confidence in order to convince you that they are your friend, business associate or a romantic interest
  • Scammers play with your emotions by using the excitement of a win, a promise of an everlasting love, sympathy about an unfortunate accident, guilt for not helping or anxiety and fear about a fine.
  • Scammers love to create a sense of urgency so you don’t have time to think things through and react on emotions rather than logic.
  • Likewise, they high pressure sales tactics saying it is a limited offer, princes will rise or the market will move and the opportunity will be lost.
  • A scam can have all the hallmark of a real business using glossy brochures will technical industry jargon back up with office fronts, call centres and professional websites.
  • With access to the internet and clever software it is easy for scammers to create counterfeit and official-looking documents. A document that appears to have government approval or is filled with legal jargon can give a scam an air of authority.

These tricks are the scammers way to lower your defences, build trust in THEIR fabricated story and act quickly or irrationally and proceed in the final stage of the scam – sending money.

3. Sending the money

Scammers sometimes will casually ask for money after they have asked their fictitious story to you, the potential victim. This can be minutes after a scam, or months after careful grooming. Scammers have their preferences in how you, the victim (or potential victim) is to send the money.

Scammers have been known to direct victims to the nearest money remittance location (post office, wire transfer service or even the bank) to send money. They have been known to stay on the phone, give specific instructions and may have been send a taxi to help with this. 

Scammers are willing to accept money by any means necessary. This can include: direct bank transfer, preloaded debit cards, gift cards, Google Play, Steam, or iTunes Cares or virtual currency as Bitcoin. Any request for payment by an unusual method is a tell-tale sign that it is part of a scam.

Credit cards usually offer some protection and you should also look for secure payment options where ‘https’ appears in the web address and the sit has a close padlock symbol.  An example of this is PayPal. PayPal is a third-party encryption site designed for safe online interaction between buyers and sellers. Catered for both individuals and businesses, no one doesn’t see your credit or debit card information. It is a safe alternative to sharing financial information online.

Don’t send any money to someone you have only meet online or over the phone – especially if they are overseas.

Be aware that scammers can also ask for payment in the form of valuable or expensive gifts such as jewellery or electronic goods. Paying money to scammers isn’t the only thing you should worry about – if you help trans money for a stranger you may unwittingly be involved in illegal money laundering activities.

You can always say NO

What types of scams are out there?

To protect ourselves against potential scams online is to be aware of the most common ones.

  • Dating and Romancing Scams
  • Phishing Scams
  • Investment Scams
  • Threat and Penalty Scams
  • Unexpected money scams
  • Price and lottery scams
  • Online shopping, Classified and Auction Scams
  • Scams targeting computer and mobile devices
  • Identify theft
  • Job and Employment Scams
  • Charity and Medical Scams
  • Business Scams
  • Remote Access Scams
  • Covid-19 (Coronavirus) Scams

How to protect yourself from scams

While it’s difficult to write about protection for each and every scam here. It is encouraged for you to visit Scamwatch’s website: www.scamwatch.gov.au for more detailed information.  You can subscribe to their newsletter about the latest updates on current scams.  

However here are a few general points in how you can protect yourself and your loved ones against scams:

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. If a message or email comes from a friend and it seems unusual or out of character for them, contact your friend directly to check that it was really them that sent it.

Do not open suspicious texts, pop-up windows or click on links or attachments in 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.

Don’t respond to phone calls about your computer asking for remote access – hang up – even if they mention a well-known company such as Telstra. Scammers will often ask you to turn on your computer to fix a problem or install a free upgrade, which is actually a virus which will give them your passwords and personal details.

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.

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.

Review your privacy and security settings on social media. If you use social networking sites, such as Facebook, be careful who you connect with and learn how to use your privacy and security settings to ensure you stay safe.  If you recognise suspicious behaviour, clicked on spam or have been scammed online, take steps to secure your account and be sure to report it.

Beware of any requests for your details or money. Never send money or give credit card details, 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 wary of unusual payment requests. Scammers will often ask you to use an unusual payment method, including preloaded debit cards, gift cards, iTunes cards or virtual currency such as Bitcoin.

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. Learn more about online shopping scams.

Other tips

  • You can silence and/or block unknown callers on your smartphone as this can help reduce scams/scammers contacting you.
  • Review your bank statements to make sure no inconsistencies are occurring within your finances. Always contact your bank or financial institution DIRECTLY if unsure.
  • If you wish to – you can consider investing in a call blocking/reverse lookup app for your smartphone.
  • For your electronic devices such as smartphones and computers, if you wish to, consider investing getting some anti-virus software to prevent and maintain your devices. This prevents against malware attacks, ransomware and other malicious attacks on your electronics.
  • Don’t click on hyperlinks in text/social media messages or emails, even if they appear to come from a trusted source.
  • Never respond to unsolicited messages and calls that ask for personal or financial details — just press delete or hang up.
  • Never provide a stranger remote access to your computer, even if they claim to be from a telco company such as Telstra or the NBN Co.
  • To verify the legitimacy of a contact, find them through an independent source such as a phone book, past bill or online search.

Coronavirus (COVID-19) Scam:



Scammers are using this pandemic as a way to get money and personal information out of victims. This is occurring both in Australia and overseas. The key is to be vigilant.

Scammers may try to obtain your personal information by claiming it is a requirement as part of the COVID-19 vaccine.

Don’t give personal information to anyone who calls you about the vaccine for personal or financial information are scams.

If you do receive any unexpected emails, text messages about the vaccines, don’t click on the links. They make contain malware and give your personal information to a scammer.

Other vaccines scams that Scamwatch is aware of include offers to pay money as an investment opportunity in the Pfizer vaccine and fake surveys related to the vaccines

These surveys offer a prize or even early access to the vaccine for their completion. In reality, the surveys are after your personal or financial information.

COVID-19 vaccination proof in myGov, Medicare and My Health Record

You may need proof of your COVID-19 vaccination.

You will be able to access proof of vaccination through Medicare Online via myGov, the Medicare Express Plus app or your My Health Record.

Key information on demonstrating that proof is provided is available on the Services Australia website.

If you are using your myGov and Medicare accounts, ensure your personal information is safe.

No one legitimate will request your myGov sign-in details, or request you to sign into your account while they are watching your screen.

How vaccines will be distributed

It’s important to be aware of how vaccines will be delivered to Australians.

Initially vaccines will be delivered through vaccination clinics run by states and territories. If you are in residential aged care or disability care, residents will receive vaccines through teams attending care facilities.

If someone offers to mail you a vaccine, it is a scam.

More information on the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines is available on the Department of Health website.

Get your information from reliable resources

Ignore unreliable information and only get your vaccine info from a trusted source like the Department of Health website or qualified medical professionals.

You can learn more about COVID-19 vaccines on the Department of Health website.

If you need information about COVID-19, COVID-19 vaccines or help with the COVIDSafe app, call the telephone number 1800 020 080. This number operates 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Members of the public and health professionals can also use the COVID-19 vaccine enquiries form to submit an enquiry relating to COVID-19 vaccines.

COVID-19 vaccination scams outside Australia

There are a range of vaccine scams being reported around the globe. Some of these include:

  • Selling fake vaccine appointments
  • Administering fake vaccines door to door for payment
  • Asking for participation in fake vaccine surveys
  • Asking for payment to ship vaccines to consumers
  • Charging for a pre-test prior to getting a vaccine
  • Putting your name on a waiting list to get a vaccine.

I am strong…. I am not going to be played…


References:

Scamwatch

Department of Health (Australia)

MyGov

Services Australia

Medicare (Australia)

https://www.scamwatch.gov.au/types-of-scams/buying-or-selling/online-shopping-scams

https://www.paypal.com/au

https://www.acnc.gov.au/charity (Australian Charities and Not-For-Profits Commission)

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