20 January, 2021
Protecting Yourself from Online & SMS Scams
Online scams are very scary, and they’re affecting more and more Australians every year. We’ve sadly been made aware of a recent online scam affecting one of our clients. Scammers trick people into sending money or personal details and have been known to target older Australians or Australians with disabilities. To help protect you and your loved ones, we have written a helpful guide with information on scams, how to spot them, and how to report them.
Online scams are becoming more sophisticated and increasingly common, with reports of such schemes targeting older people and people with disabilities. We have created a helpful guide to empower you with the tools you need to identify and protect yourself and your loved ones from online and SMS scammers.
While people of all ages and backgrounds are affected, older people and people with disabilities are often particularly vulnerable and are often targeted by scammers. Concerningly, there have been recent reports of scammers pretending to be My Aged Care and the NDIS. Use this simple guide to learn about the different types of scams to look out for and to pick up some handy tips on how you can identify a scam.
What Kinds of Online Scams Are Out There?
There are lots of different types of scams, unfortunately. Scammers may contact you with a phone call, a text message, an email, or messages on other websites and apps, such as through a dating profile or shopping website.
Some of the more common themes include:
Inheritance scams. These offer the false promise of an inheritance to trick you into parting with your money or sharing your bank or credit card details.
Rebate scams. These try to convince you that you’re entitled to a rebate, but that you must first pass over details to access it.
Unexpected prize scams. These scammers try to tell you that you’ve won a prize, but they expect a fee to access it.
Dating scams. These scams prey on lonely people looking for love. They shower people with compliments and then ask for money.
Investment scams. You or your business may be asked to invest in a “lucrative opportunity” which doesn’t actually exist.
Shopping scams. These will often involve online shopping sites, which are set up to look real, even though they aren’t.
Follow up scams. These target people who’ve already been a victim through more trickery.
What Kinds of Official Agencies Do Scammers Pretend To Be From?
Part of the reason some people trust scammers is because they may appear to be from official organisations.
Some examples that we have heard of include scammers pretending to need to talk to you about:
Your bank account (for example, they claim to be from Commonwealth Bank).
An imaginary tax debt (for example, they claim they are the ATO).
An urgent immigration matter where they threaten deportation (for example, they claim to be the Department of Home Affairs).
Postage fees (for example, they pretend to be Australia Post, claiming that you need to pay them in order for an item to be delivered).
Home Care Packages (for example, they claim to be from My Aged Care, requesting information).
This is an example that the Australian Tax Office has shared in their scam alerts section to make people aware of SMS scams. Notice how the link is a bit.ly link? You should never follow this. The ATO never texts or emails links, instead, they direct you to log in from either my.gov.au, ato.gov.au, or the ATO app.
How Do I Spot a Scam?
Scammers often use sophisticated lies to trick you, so they can be hard to spot. Luckily, with the right knowledge, scams can become easier to identify.
Email is a very common way for people to be scammed. They often use the same logos and designs as the real organisation, and they even set their sender name to look like they’re from legitimate businesses.
However, you can look for clues. If in any doubt, check the email address it’s been sent from. This is hard when using Apple Mailbox on your mobile, because you can only see the ‘name’ of the sender, which they can easily customise. For example, it might say that the email is from ‘My Aged Care’, when the email address looks more unusual.
The below email claims it’s from Amazon. But look at the strange email address it was sent from! A reputable company would never send something like this.
Keep in mind that fake emails will often claim to be from big companies you’re very familiar with, like a bank or government organisation. Look at past emails, and make comparisons. Often a fake email will have inconsistencies with spelling, grammar or tone. If you’re in doubt, find out a legitimate way to contact that business and then ask them if the email is genuine.
Never follow links or open attachments if you suspect an email is fake. This could infect your computer or leave you vulnerable to scams.
Fake Dating Profiles
Looking for love online is very popular and can be a great way of meeting a partner. Sadly, scammers know that people are more vulnerable when they form an emotional connection and they have been known to target innocent people on dating sites.
If someone is professing their love for you early on, this could be a red flag. A bit of sleuthing can help you out. Look into their interests, their language skills, and what they’ve written in their bio. Does it seem unusual? For example, do they claim to be born in Australia, but they can’t speak English well? Or does their profile claim they’re a model, or something unlikely?
As a general rule, never send money to a love interest you’ve never met.
A lot of scammers find images online, so they’re not always who they say they are. A great online tool you can use to check whether an image they’ve provided has been used elsewhere on the internet is the TinEye website.
If you do want to talk to people on dating sites, that’s great! But stay on the website to communicate - often, they will ask to email or text, which means you’re less protected if something goes wrong.
Official advice is to always stop and check whenever you’re unsure. Ask yourself – is this for real? You should also be cautious and take note of the following:
Never send money
Don't be pressured into making a decision, even if they’re saying it’s urgent, for example, they may tell you they need money for a hospital bill or to escape a dangerous situation. They also may threaten you with prison if you don’t pay a fake debt.
Scammers often ask for strange methods of payment, like BitCoin or gift cards. That’s because it’s harder to trace them.
Don’t use contact details they’ve provided to you. Verify the company’s number by doing a Google search or looking in the phone book.
Delete emails claiming to have a prize or financial opportunity to you out of the blue.
Do research before making investments. You can check if a company or scheme is licensed on ASIC's MoneySmart website.
Be very wary of people you’ve never met asking you for things you aren’t comfortable with.
Look at how professionally written a website looks. If it’s written in poor English or with lots of mistakes, the chances are higher that it is fake. Use websites like TrustPilot to determine legitimacy.
Our Top Tips
Concerned about the action you can take or the advice you can give to your family? Follow the tips below:
Be alert. Talk to your family and friends about the existence of scams, so they don’t make any mistakes
Keep credit card details private, and never send money or banking information to people you don’t know.
Don’t allow anyone to have remote access to your computer, no matter who they say they are.
Always double check who you’re dealing with, by independently verifying it. It’s okay to say you’ll hang up a call or reply when you’ve done your own research. A real company won’t mind.
Don’t follow links or open attachments. Here’s another example of a trick email trying to get you to follow their link and give them too much information.
Set good, strong passwords and never share them with anyone.
Shred letters that are sent through the post so that people can’t steal your identity.
Don’t give out too much information online. People could use your photos or details to scam others, or in order to scam you with their knowledge. Review your privacy settings so that strangers don’t have access to you.
Invest in protecting your computer and other devices with anti-virus software.
If someone asks you to pay with PayPal as a “family or friend” when they’re neither, do not do so. You may lose protections if trying to get a refund.
If something seems too good to be true, for example a sale on a website you’ve never heard of, it probably is.
What Support & Information Can I Access?
If you or someone you love has been a victim, please know that you are not alone. You should always tell someone you trust about what has happened to you, even if the scammers threaten you for doing so.
We recommend looking at the ACCC's Scamwatch website, to discover how to recognise, report and protect yourself from scams. The Little Black Book of Scams is a free resource that you can use to help you identify scams and avoid them.
If you need to report a scam, head to the ACCC’s report a scam page. You can provide full details in order to help them warn others.
They also provide guidance on how to get help. This might involve:
Reporting to authorities such as the police
Contacting your financial institution
Recovering a stolen identity
Changing all your passwords
Visiting IDCARE, Australia and New Zealand’s not-for-profit national identity and cyber support service.
Unfortunately, many scammers live overseas. This means there’s not a lot our government can do. That’s why it’s especially important to warn all your family and friends.