While technology has made life more convenient in ways that would have been unthinkable even a short time ago, it has also given scammers new ways to part innocent people from their hard-earned money.
In fact, according to the Australian Government’s Scamwatch website, more than $367 million was reported lost to scams of one kind or another in the first eight months of 2023 alone. In terms of amounts, investment scams top the list by a large margin, with dating/romance scams, phishing scams, and remote access scams all making the top 10.
In this article, we take a look at the most common scams around at the moment, how best to protect yourself from them, and what to do if you think you’ve fallen victim to one.
An investment scam is when you are contacted by someone claiming to be from an investment company. This can happen out of the blue but is just as likely to be the result of you unwittingly responding to a bogus online ad. The scammer will typically explain that they have an investment opportunity for you with a guaranteed return. They may even allow you to view your supposed investment on a fake trading platform.
Perhaps needless to say, you should exercise extreme caution before parting with money in this way. Here are a few things you should do first:
- Check if the person calling is registered on the ASIC website.
- Check the official list of companies you should not deal with.
- Seek professional advice from a financial advisor who is registered with ASIC.
- Don’t let anyone pressure you into making investment decisions.
- Never commit to investing on the spot.
- Conduct your own due diligence.
Dating and romance scams
Although this doesn’t feature in the top 10 most reported type of scam (possibly due to embarrassment on the part of its victims), it’s second only to investment scams in terms of the amount of money lost in 2023 to date.
A dating or romance scam occurs when an unsuspecting individual is contacted online, usually via a dating website, messaging app or social media, by someone claiming to be interested in starting a relationship with them.
Their aim is to build the individual’s trust over a period of time (which can be months or even years) before requesting money. In some cases, a scammer will persuade their victim to send intimate photos which they will later use to blackmail them.
Here are some tell-tale signs of a dating/romance scam:
- A person professing their love for you after a short period of time.
- Someone asking for financial assistance or help to get into Australia.
- When someone insists on communicating exclusively via phone or message apps.
- Someone asking you to send intimate photos or videos.
If you think you’ve fallen for a dating/romance scam, you should:
- Cease all communication with the other person immediately.
- Report them to the online service provider you met them through.
- If you have shared online banking passwords or account details, contact your bank immediately.
This is when you receive an email or message (either via SMS or another messaging service such as WhatsApp) pretending to be from a legitimate company like your bank, mobile phone provider, or postal delivery service. The message will usually contain a link or attachment, which, once clicked, will ask you to provide personal information such as your password or account details.
The first rule of avoiding phishing scams is, don’t click on links or attachments in unsolicited communications. The second rule (which you won’t need if you follow the first) is, never give up personal information in response to any such message.
Here are some ways to identify a potential phishing message:
- It is received out of the blue.
- You don’t have any dealings with the organisation it claims to come from.
- It doesn’t address you by your proper name.
- There are spelling errors and/or poor grammar.
- It asks you to click on a link or attachment.
- The link you are being asked to click is different to the legitimate website.
- You feel pressured or intimidated.
If you receive a suspicious message, you should report it to the ACCC and delete it immediately.
Remote access scams
This is when a person is persuaded to grant a scammer remote access to their PC or mobile device via third-party software, usually as the result of an unsolicited phone call.
While you might think this would be easy to spot, scammers are becoming increasingly good at impersonating representatives of trusted companies and organisations.
You should act with extreme caution if you receive an unsolicited phone call from:
- Someone claiming to be from a trusted organisation (e.g., Telstra, NBN, ATO, Amazon, Facebook) warning you of hackers or a problem with your device.
- Someone informing you that your bank account has been hacked.
- Someone claiming that you are owed a refund for a service, particularly if it’s one you’ve never used.
While any of the above should be treated with suspicion, this is especially true if the person on the other end of the line is noticeably persistent or abusive.
If you receive a call like this:
- Immediately hang up on the caller.
- If you have granted remote access, turn off your PC or mobile device and disable your internet connection.
- Contact the company in question via its publicly listed phone number to report the incident.
There’s no need to be scared
Although we’ve referred to these scams as ‘scary’, there’s nothing to be afraid of if you follow the basic rules of cybersecurity outlined above. To keep yourself up-to-date with the latest scams doing the rounds, we recommend checking both Great Southern Bank’s scam hub and the Australian Government’s Scamwatch website regularly .