Australians are losing millions of dollars a week to increasingly common swindles. How can you avoid them?
Australians are losing at least $1m each day to scams as fraudsters become more sophisticated in their tactics.
There are 745 scams reported every day to Scamwatch – but it’s estimated these are just the tip of the iceberg, as many go undisclosed.
Here are five of the most common scams going around at the moment, and what to watch out for:
1. The ‘hi mum’ scam
The ‘hi mum’ scam is simple and effective.
Victims are contacted by an unknown number – mostly through text or WhatsApp – and told their loved one has lost or damaged their phone. The scammer then asks for money to help them replace the phone.
The Australian Consumer and Competition Commission said it was seeing a new style of these scams where a text message – apparently from ‘Mum’ or ‘Dad’ – asks receivers to send money to them.
The text message usually says the person is at Woolworths, Coles or a service station but has taken the wrong card with them. The message then asks the receiver to put $150 and $400 into their account and says they will “pay you back when I get home”.
“Consumers who receive messages from a number they don’t recognise should independently verify the contact by reaching out to the person the messenger is purporting to be,” an ACCC spokesperson said.
2. The toll road scam
In this text-based scam, victims are sent a message from a toll road company, such as Linkt, saying they have overdue fines.
Dr Khandakar Ahmed, senior lecturer in IT at Victoria University, said this scam was targeted at people who don’t travel regularly, often over the holiday period.
“Scammers use the holiday period to target irregular travellers,” Ahmed said.
“Statistically if you send 10,000 people such a message, 10% will have travelled through a toll way recently and they won’t have an account linked to their car.”
The victims are then prompted to click on the link to pay their fine or update the details. They are taken to an official-looking website where they enter their bank details.
Ahmed said toll companies would never text asking for money or personal details. If you do have an unpaid toll fine, it will come in the mail.
3. Online job scams
Dan Halpin, the chief executive of Cybertrace, a private cyber-investigations firm, said they were seeing an increase in the number of online job scams.
These are often conducted via messaging platforms including WhatsApp and social media, with victims contacted by someone pretending to be a recruitment officer with a good job offer.
Targets are often asked to set up a cryptocurrency wallet, converting their own money on the promise they will make more back.
“The scammers are smooth talkers and will be very convincing if asked why the cryptocurrency is necessary for the position,” he said.
“However, I can assure you, there is no legitimate reason why a job applicant would need to own a cryptocurrency wallet and convert their money to cryptocurrency.”
If the advertisement is listed on social media, particularly on a group or community page, or sent directly via a messaging platform, there’s a good chance it’s a scam, according to Halpin.
4. Suspicious transaction scams
In suspicious transactions, scam targets are called by someone pretending to be from their bank. The person tells them there has been a suspicious transaction on their account, or a transfer has gone through that shouldn’t have.
“They can also send different messages telling you that your account is blocked, and asking you to contact them to unblock the account,” Ahmed said.
The victim is then asked to “confirm” their details and hand over personal information.
Ahmed said banks will never call and ask you to hand over personal information. If someone does, hang up and call your own bank via the phone number listed on their website.
5. Crypto scams
Investment scams continue to be a honey pot for fraudsters. They’re exceptionally sophisticated and often run by experienced criminal syndicates.
“The most common type of crypto scam encourages individuals to invest with the assistance of a crypto broker or trader via their website,” Halpin said.
“The crypto broker in turn trades the cryptocurrencies on behalf of the investor, and the investor can monitor the trading and in some instances even withdraw small amounts of money.”
The accounts are fake and scammers manipulate the data to make it look as though victims are trading on a legitimate platform. But in reality all that’s happening is the scammer is stealing the victim’s money.
Halpin said the easiest way for potential investors to identify a crypto scam was by checking the broker’s website via Cybertrace, using its custom-built scam detector, ScamSleuth.