25/03/2021 by Pascoe Partners Accountants
According to the Scamwatch service run by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), Australians lost $176 million to scammers in 2020. Of this, $66 million was lost to investment scams. Now, scams are nothing new, but as more and more of the economy moves online, it seems that something of a Wild West situation has arisen. As we become increasingly reliant on technology, it looks like the scope for scams is keeping pace.
In this post, we are going to look closer at some of these scams and also provide some advice on how to avoid falling victim to one.
Some people seem to attract an unfair volume of scam attempts. These people will well know the feeling of seeing a strange text from a far-flung country — say, the United Arab Emirates — that contains a concerning warning.
Often, it is to do with assuring you still have access to your online accounts and contains an encouragement to undertake some action towards rectifying the “problem” they have detected. It might seem that all scammers are amateurish, but that’s only because the inept ones are this obvious. The truly devious ones con the naive out of considerable sums (as the statistic in the first sentence illustrates).
Like many institutions maintaining the accounts of a large user base, the ATO is active in trying to warn people when it detects a scam. Just as this article was being compiled, it was distributing a bulletin warning about a scam it has detected.
Apparently, people were receiving a robocall wherein “the ATO” claimed that the recipient’s Tax File Number had been suspended due to fraudulent activity. Alarming news. Wary callers would have hung up and blocked the number. But the unwary might fall for it and follow the instructions to transfer funds to a fake ATO account.
Before you scoff at how obvious it seems, take a second to consider the seven well-meaning Australians duped by this so far in 2021 alone. Combined, they’ve lost $118,000. Now, if you think you are wise in the ways of phone scammers, consider another concerning trend recently detected in Western Australia.
As people became used to scanning a QR code to enter a business’s premises, it wasn’t long before reports started appearing that scammers were creating and placing fake QR codes to capture details from users. Why? Because every piece of ID information the scammers scrape either goes onto the black market or is later used to aid in more advanced identity theft attempts targeting the same people again.
These sorts of examples are just the ones we are aware of. They are just the tip of the iceberg, and things are going to get worse. The level of sophistication in the schemes is increasing. Previously, you could often spot a scam letter or email due to the poor spelling and grammar, now that is not always the case.
The natural response is to wonder what on Earth you can do to protect yourself from the scammers? Here are some tips:
1. Know that banks do not request information by email or text message, even when there is a real emergency
2. If you have a tax agent, be aware that the ATO will initially contact them, not you, regarding tax matters.
3. Check the address from which an email was sent. If it feels doubtful, delete it. Never open attachments that you are unsure about.
4. Be careful in transferring funds using your internet banking. Always make sure that the account details of whom you are paying are correct. Regard it as a red alert if someone purporting to represent a business or institution says the usual payment details have been changed.
5. Keep your computer security up to date, and do not use the same password across all sites. Your social media, banking and e-commerce log-in details should be completely different. Apps like LastPass are great for storing and managing strong passwords.
6. Use two-factor authentication as much as possible. Try an app like Google Authenticator.
7. Never give someone remote access to your computer and keep your WIFI protected with a strong password.
Meanwhile, on your phone, be wary of answering unknown numbers on your mobile. Let it ring out and then use Google to look the number up. This sort of search will generally lead to sites like numberlookup.com.au or reverseaustralia.com. These services maintain large databases of safe and suspect numbers.
Often, they’ll show you the details of the callers and whether others have experienced a problem with them. If in doubt, block the number. Further, sites like Scamwatch (www.scamwatch.gov.au), as mentioned in the intro, are often illuminating.
If you’re reading this, then chances are you’ve been targeted by a scammer. And more recently than you might expect. They’re out there and their methods continue to get better.
The good news is that scamming almost always relies on low-effort techniques to dupe people who are easy marks, so simply being alert puts you in the too-hard basket by default.
Still not feeling entirely secure? Call us and we’ll talk through the ins and outs of staying safe in the Wild West of cyberspace.