Online scammers no longer simply prey on society's most vulnerable. No one is safe from online scammers, and many of these scammers have capitalised on the pandemic, using this confusing time to attack more people than ever.
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) reported that Australian citizens lost a record $851 million to scams during the pandemic, and these huge losses show no signs of abating. But we can work together to be more scam aware, and there are things you can do to prevent yourself from falling victim to a scam. Here is a breakdown of the most common online scams in Australia and how you can avoid them:
Hijacking your personal accounts
Online scams are increasingly sophisticated, and many scammers can use a high level of technical knowledge to separate their targets from their money. One of the most common online scams is also one of the simplest: if you don't have an adequate level of internet security protecting your devices (this includes both your computer and your phone) then scammers can simply hack into your personal accounts and take over your identity. This is particularly easy to do if you are connecting to the internet using an open or public Wi-Fi network. Luckily, there are some things you can do to prevent this.
Firstly, you should unsure that your online passwords are as strong as possible, and you are advised not to use the same password across all of your accounts. That way, if an online scammer does have access to your private information, they might not be able to access the broadest spectrum of your accounts. You are also strongly advised to secure a virtual private network VPN for your router, both in your home and in your office, to further enhance your internet security. VPNs encrypt your internet traffic and disguise your online identity: this means that they make it much it much harder for third parties to track your online behaviour and activities, and therefore means that they will be much less likely to be able to steal your data.
Requesting funds to an overseas account
If you receive a text message or email from a friend, family member, or even your boss asking you to send them money to an overseas account then you are strongly advised to ignore it. If in doubt, call the person in question to receive verbal confirmation that their request is a valid one.
This is the most popular online scam and one that is widely publicised across Australia. Both individuals and corporations can fall victim to this scam, and often the scammers will request that you send them funds by a money transfer company such as Western Union or Moneygram: this is because collecting cash through these types of services is both fast and discrete. When making international money transfers from Australia be sure to use a reputable company that will secure your transaction and will flag any suspicious transactions with your bank.
You can protect yourself from this kind of scam by communicating verbally with your friends, colleagues or family members to ensure the transaction you are being asked to make is a legitimate one. You can also use a reputable money transfer company, and if you're ensure about making a transaction then don't.
Buying and selling online scams
If you buy or sell online then it's important to be scam-aware, as these transactions are at a greater risk of being exploited by scammers. This is particularly true if you buy or sell via online classified ad websites, where scammers often lurk. One common scam is to pose as a genuine seller and post an ad for a high price item: this item could be anything, but common examples include rental properties or accommodation, pets, used cars, boats, bikes, caravans and horses.
These scam adverts are hard to spot because they often include genuine pictures that have been stolen from other, legitimate, adverts. When you reply to one of these adverts, the scammer will then ask you to pay for the goods before you see or receive them: they may claim to be travelling or moving house and put pressure on you to give them the payment by saying that other interested parties will get the goods if you don't. If you pay them, the scammer will then disappear with your money, and you will never receive the goods that they didn't ever actually have!
The best way to protect yourself from this kind of scam is simply to never pay for goods until you are in possession of them. Meet up with sellers to complete transactions face to face and remember that if an offer seems too good to be true then it probably is. Don't use online classified ads to find services such as holiday accommodation which you can't inspect before parting with your cash: instead use reputable online booking agents who are registered and regulated.
Lottery and competition scams
Lottery and competition scams are popular in Australia and are often implemented either via email or via the post. Scammers will send you a letter or email letting you know that you have won a lot of money or fantastic prizes in a lottery or sweepstakes competition. The prizes will be incredibly appealing, but you will not have any recollection of entering this particular lottery or competition: and it is at this point that alarm bells should start ringing.
The aim of these scams is to trick you into either giving the scammers money upfront in order to secure your ‘prize' or, increasingly, to share your personal details with the scammers (such as your name and address, date of birth, or even bank account details) so that they can issue you with your prize. Another way these kinds of scams operate is that you may need to call a premium rate phone number to secure your prize, thus giving the scammers your cash in the process!
Remember that, if you haven't entered a competition or lottery, you cannot win a prize from it. If an offer sounds too good to be true, it usually is. Substantial sums of money or prizes are rarely issued by email: if you have entered a competition and have doubts, ask for the business address and corporate number of the competition body and contact them directly. If in doubt, hit delete: don't share your details with people you don't know, and make it easy for scammers to get their hands on your hard-earned cash!
Online dating scams
Finally, online dating scams specifically target those looking to find love online. Scammers with more nefarious intentions create fake dating profiles on legitimate dating websites and then enter relationships in order to glean money and personal details from their targets. Often these relationships will build up over several months, creating strong romantic connections and providing plenty of emotional connections but without ever meeting face to face. Once the scammer has developed a close connection to their target, they will then ask them for money. Often this is to help cover costs associated with illness, injury, travel or a family crisis.
The best way to protect yourself from this scam is to never send money to someone you have never met in person. Ask yourself why you haven't met your new romantic connection: remember that if someone seems too good to be true then they usually are. If you're still not ready to give up on the idea that the person you have ‘met' is real then try doing a google image search using the images they have sent you of themselves: are they the person they say they are? Approach online dating with caution: don't share too much personal information online, and always tell a friend or family member if you're going to meet someone that you have met online.