Keeping Safe in an Era of Scams

ACTION: Adapting CANSAS to Individuals’ Own Needs                                                  Recovery Conversation Theme #10:Personal Safety 

by Grant J Everett

scam safe

The “Nigerian Prince needs to transfer money” ruse is an old, well-known con, and it’s easy to chuckle at the thought of somebody falling for it nowadays. The thing is, scams don’t have to be 100% effective: if a scammer can fool just one person a week for a couple a thousand dollars each time, it’s worth striking out with 99 others along the way. It’s just like fishing: you don’t go out expecting to catch every fish. 

Scammers prefer to prey on the vulnerable, but they will target people from all backgrounds, ages and income levels. Scammers are storytellers who will use the latest technology, products and services to create the most convincing tale they can, and that means any unexpected phonecalls, emails, texts or Friend requests you receive have the potential to be from a scammer. This means it is never safe to provide your personal details to anyone who contacts you in an unsolicited manner, no matter who they say they represent. Don’t click on any of the links or attachments, either. 

But what if you receive an email from a company or organisation you’ve dealt with before, like Australia Post or the Australian Taxation Office or eBay? If you want to be 100% sure, you can contact the person, organisation or company through the official channels to see if they are legitimate. You can verify their identity through an independent source such as a phone book or a Google search, but don’t use any contact details they have provided in the suspect message! If the person is legitimate then they will understand your caution, and will not dissuade you from using trusted channels to do your business. 

A popular scam doing the rounds at the moment is claiming to be from the debt recovery department at the Australian Taxation Office, and that they will have to issue a warrant for your arrest if you do not do exactly as they say. 

Top tips 

Here are a few basic precautions that can help keep you safe from scammers. Websites provided by the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission (ACCC), ScamWatch and the Australian Securities & Investments Commission (ASIC) can tell you everything you could possibly want to know about scams and scammers. 

For instance… 

If you receive a message or email from a friend that seems unusual or out of character, contact them directly to check if it really was them. If they’re being imitated, they’ll want to know. 

Be careful with how much you share on social media (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc). Scammers can steal your content and use it to target your contacts. You can also adjust your privacy and security settings on social media to specify exactly how much of your profile is visible, and to who. 

Scammers like to isolate their victims. It’s easier to fool one person than a group of five. If somebody contacts you and tells you to keep something a secret from your spouse or your family, it’s a dead giveaway something is amiss. 

Use passwords to keep all your devices secure and keep them private. A strong password has a mixture of upper and lower case letters, numbers and symbols, and is difficult to guess. Don’t use the same password for everything, and update them regularly. 

Never open a pop-up window, a link or an attachment in a suspicious email. This is a popular way to infect computers with a virus that will steal your passwords and other details. 

Don’t agree to transfer money or goods for somebody else, as this can fall under the umbrella of money laundering. This is a criminal offence with very harsh penalties. 

Be careful when shopping online. Beware of offers that seem too good to be true, and only use your PayPal account or credit card on sites that you know and trust. 

No matter where you’re shopping, being asked to pay for something in unusual ways is always a red flag. Scammers will often want preloaded debit cards, gift cards, or iTunes cards. 

“Phishing” scams can look just like the real thing, as official documents and corporate emails can be faked by stealing logos, graphics and design styles from legitimate websites. 

A generic greeting in an email is always a red flag. If your exact name, address, account number and other private details aren’t already included in the email, then disregard it. Poor quality presentation, like bad grammar and spelling, are another giveaway. 

Never heard of the company or organisation? It’s best to disregard the message. 

Fake dating profiles are common. Scammers will use stolen photos of beautiful women or hunky men, but an image search service such as TinEye can confirm if “their” photo has been appropriated. 

Never use public computers (libraries, internet cafes) or WiFi hotspots to perform sensitive tasks like online banking or anything else that involves sharing personal information. 

Update your security software and back up your content regularly. 

What’s worse than being scammed? Being scammed twice! Common follow-up scams include pretending to be a law enforcement agency that has been investigating your case, and claiming they can retrieve your money for a fee (police officers DO NOT charge the general public for their services!). 

For more information… 

www.accc.gov.au/consumers/consumer-protection/protecting-yourself-from-scams 

www.scamwatch.gov.au/get-help/protect-yourself-from-scams 

www.moneysmart.gov.au/scams/avoiding-scams

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