Scammers are upping their game and finding new ways to target Australians with scare tactics and requests for money. Catherine Schulte reports.

Around the country, thousands of people are receiving phone calls from dubious international sources demanding money transfers, iTunes cards or access to home computers.

The Australian Federal Government website ScamWatch is regularly updated with the latest information on the hoaxes doing the rounds. The scammers are increasing their skill in the scams they conduct and becoming more sophisticated with each attempt.

The latest scams include:

Fake charities

This scam involves creating fake charities or impersonating real charities to manipulate the person and take advantage of their generosity.

Celebrity endorsements

This is a newer kind of scam where celebrity images are used to endorse dodgy products or requests for money.

In 2018 there was a report that these types of scams are up by 400 per cent and, and financial losses amount to an increase of 3800 per cent. TV journalist Jessica Rowe recently hit out at this scam after being used as a face for it.

Attempts to access your computer over the phone. Scammers are impersonating well-known businesses or police to gain access to your home computer to steal money or banking information.

Dating and romance hooks

This is very common, and stories about these appear on A Current Affair regularly. Prospective love interests post themselves, usually on online dating, and manipulate their victims into giving them thousands of dollars. Stories usually include that they are overseas and need money to get to Australia, or a sick relative needs help, and so on. Victims have reported large financial losses in addition to emotional heartache.

ATO debt scare tactics

Scammers are calling people on the phone, posing as the tax office, to inform them they have a debt, usually in the thousands of dollars, and that they need to pay this debt immediately via the purchase of iTunes gift cards.

Coles Supermarkets has recently been advertising over Coles Radio, played in store, warning customers that no government authority or any other business would request any payment in iTunes cards.

Fake bank emails

Phishing scams where you receive an email that looks like it’s from your financial institution have become common.

The email states that your account has been locked for security reasons and you need to click on the link provided to verify your identity.

Unexpected prize wins

These come in as a request for you to pay a fee to claim your prize from a competition or lottery you never entered.

Rebates and refunds

Attempts to convince you that you’re entitled to a rebate or refund from a government agency or trusted business are on the rise. So stay alert.

Scammers are incredibly successful at what they do because they manage to manipulate and threaten their victims so well.

By 6th November 2018, the amount fraud reported for the year has totalled a whopping $90 million.

Older Australians are particularly at risk because they usually have more accumulated wealth than younger people, and can be less internet- and computer-savvy than their younger counterparts. That’s why it pays to know the risks, be aware of the tactics, and be on guard.

Top tips for staying scam-safe

ScamWatch offers the following tips for protecting yourself from scammers:

• Don’t be pressured into making a decision. Scammers often try to create a sense of urgency through short deadlines, fake emergencies, or threats of legal action.
• Be suspicious of requests for money – even if they sound or look official. Government departments will never contact you asking for money upfront in order to claim a rebate.

Be aware of password thieves (‘phishers’).

• Scammers will often ask you to use an unusual payment method, including preloaded debit cards, gift cards, iTunes cards or virtual currency such as Bitcoin.
• Verify the identity of the contact by calling the relevant organisation directly. Find them through an independent source such as a phone book or online search. Do not use the contact details provided in the message sent to you.
• Don’t respond to phone calls or emails offering financial advice or opportunities – just hang up or delete the email.
• Always do your own research before you invest money and check the company or scheme is licensed on ASIC’s MoneySmart website.
• Be wary of people you meet through social media or online dating sites who, after just a few chats, profess strong feelings for you and try to move you away from the site and communicate via an online chat or email conversation.
• Be suspicious of unexpected emails or letters advising you how to claim an inheritance or competition prize. Never give out your personal details and seek advice from an independent professional.

Be aware of and understand your consumer rights. Stay aware of where you stand, and you’ll be able to stand your ground against unscrupulous thieves and manipulators.

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