Being informed is the key to avoiding scams

While it seems we all like to think we are clever enough to outwit a scam, Australians collectively lost more than 480 million to scams last year.

Every year scammers get more sophisticated in the methods they use to part us with our money – or our valuable personal information. It’s important to recognise that even the savviest of us can fall victim to scams that are ever evolving to take us for a ride.

Let’s look at the scams that are having the most impact – and how to avoid them.

Phishing scams continue to reach new heights

The most common type of scam, and one that continues to increase in prevalence is known as phishing. The reason these scams are so common, is that unlike romance scams targeting those looking for love, or financial scams targeting investors, phishing scams target everyone – and everyone who has an email account, or a mobile phone is vulnerable.

There were nearly 109,000 phishing-related scam reports last year, with losses amounting to $26.1 million (up 6 per cent year-on-year).i

These may come in the form of text messages or emails from a scammer pretending to be a legitimate business or government entity you know and trust.

They are designed to convince you to provide personal information to steal your identity or to be able to access bank accounts and/or superannuation accounts. Or they can simply be asking you to part with your money to pay an overdue invoice, a “fine,” or tax debt.

There are also the scammers who pretend to be a person you know, in order to extract money from you. A classic that’s been doing the rounds is the “Hi mum/ dad” text where the scammers pretend to be one of your kids who has lost their phone and urgently needs you to transfer them money.

How to avoid getting caught

So, given how convincing these messages can be, how do you keep yourself safe? The best defence is awareness and knowing what to look for, so let’s look at some common characteristics of scam emails and texts and some of the methods commonly employed by scammers so you can be alert – and stay safe.

  • Urgent call to take action or threats – Scammers will often create a sense of urgency, telling you to take immediate action to claim a reward or avoid a fine or penalty. They are hoping you’ll react without thinking too much about it or checking the legitimacy of the message or email.

    Tip: be sceptical if a message is prompting urgent action and approach with caution.

  • Emails that look like they are coming from a trusted source – Scammers are often quite good at mimicking a business’s branding and at first glance can look pretty convincing.

    Tip: Some of the red flags to look for are spelling mistakes or a generic greeting (if the message is from a provider, they should have your name on file).
    Check the email source carefully. Scammers use subtle misspellings of the legitimate domain name. Like replacing “o” with a zero or replacing “m” with an “r” and a “n”.

  • Suspicious links – Scammers include links to online forms to capture your information that can look uncannily like the real thing and often send computer viruses and malware through malicious attachments. If you suspect that a message, or an email is a scam, don’t open any links or attachments.

    Tip: Hover your mouse over, but don’t click the link. Look at the address that pops up when you hover over the link and see if it matches the link that was typed in the message.

    To visit a provider’s website rather than click on a link to a website manually type the official web address into your browser. You could also use a search engine to find the official website and log in that way.

With phishing attempts becoming ever harder to spot and avoid, it’s more important than ever to stay vigilant and equip yourself with tools to make sure you don’t take the bait. If you think you may have fallen prey to a scam, contact your bank and report the matter to Scamwatch.


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