Man with SCAM awareness week logo

Stop and check - is this for real?

Be aware - scammers are impersonating government departments and trusted businesses.

If you received a call out of the blue from the Tax Office saying you had a tax debt that you had to pay immediately or be arrested, what would you think? If Telstra called you and said there were internet problems in your area and they needed remote access to your computer in order to help you otherwise they would disconnect your service, what would you do?

While it would be understandable if your initial reaction might be fear or panic, this Scams Awareness Week, Australians are being urged to ‘Stop and check – is this for real?’

These are examples of threat-based impersonation scams, about which the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s Scamwatch received almost 33,000 reports in 2017. About 85 per cent of these reports indicated the scammer had been in contact by telephone.

In these scams, scammers pretend to be from a government agency or well-known, trusted business and use threats to pressure or scare you into giving them money or your personal information. They may threaten that you will receive a fine, that you will be charged additional fees, that your internet will be disconnected, that the police or debt collectors will come to your home, or that you will be taken to court, arrested or even deported.

These scammers and their threats can seem genuine and frightening. They make you feel as if you’ve done something wrong or that there’s some urgency and you must do what they say immediately or suffer the consequences.

And many people have believed these threats. According to Scamwatch, over $4.7 million was reported lost and more than 2800 people gave their personal information to these scammers in 2017.

Older Australians have been particularly vulnerable to these scams – people aged 65 and over submitted more than 5800 of the Scamwatch reports and reported losing almost $1 million last year.

If you’re contacted unexpectedly and threatened by someone that says they’re from a government agency or trusted business, always consider the possibility that it may be a scam – then stop and check if it’s for real.

Keep in mind the following tips to protect yourself:

Verify the identity of the contact through an independent source, such as a phone book or online search, then get in touch with them to ask if they contacted you. Don’t use the contact details provided by the caller or in the message sent to you.

Never send money, give your banking or credit card details or other personal information to anyone you don’t know or trust, and never by email or over the phone.

Know that a government agency or trusted business will never ask you to pay them with gift or store cards, iTunes cards, wire transfers or Bitcoin.

Don’t open suspicious texts, pop-up windows or click on links or attachments in emails – just delete them. These could infect your computer with malware.

Never give anyone remote access to your computer if they’ve contacted you out of the blue – whether through a phone call, pop up window or email – and even if they claim to be from a well-known company like Telstra.

If you have lost money or given your personal details to a scammer, there are steps you can take straight away to limit the damage and protect yourself from further loss:

If you’ve sent money or shared your banking or credit card details, contact your financial institution immediately. They may be able to stop or reverse a transaction, or close your account.

If you’ve given your personal information to a scammer, visit IDCARE (www.idcare.org), Australia and New Zealand’s not-for-profit national identity and cyber support service. IDCARE can work with you to develop a specific response plan to your situation and support you through the process.

As scammers are often based overseas, it is extremely difficult for government agencies to track them down or for law enforcement to take action against them. So take the time to warn your friends and family about these scams.

For more information about these scams, where to get help or to report a scam, visit the Scamwatch website www.scamwatch.gov.au/scamsweek2018

Scammers use a number of different techniques to allure people. Below are some examples to be aware of.

  • Scam artist claiming to be from Centrelink

    Rosa, was called by someone claiming to be from Centrelink.  They told Rosa she had not replied to their letters requesting information so she had to pay a $300 penalty. Rosa had never received any such letters.

    The caller spoke very quickly and told Rosa that her file had now been sent to the Canberra office and she would need to buy $300 of iTunes cards to cover the penalty for not responding to their letters. If Rosa did this, her file would be returned to her local Centrelink office. If she didn’t, ‘Centrelink’ threatened to stop her pension altogether.

    Rosa didn’t know what iTunes cards were so she asked if she could pay the penalty by cash or credit card. The caller said that wasn’t possible and harassed Rosa into buying the iTunes cards by telling her where to go to get them and how to get them. Rosa finally agreed and was told that someone would call her back for the codes on the backs of the cards. Rosa was also given a number, supposedly in Centrelink’s Canberra office, to call if she had any concerns. And she was told she had an appointment at her local Centrelink at 11:00 am the following Monday with a ‘Sylvia Johnson’ to discuss the situation.

    After talking to her daughter-in-law, Rosa realised this was a scam, however, she had given her pension number to the caller which she then reported to Centrelink.

  • Scam artist claiming you have a fine or infringement to pay
    Anthony received an email apparently from the Australian Federal Police as it featured the agency’s logo. The email said that he had been issued with an infringement notice for a violation such as speeding, illegal parking or toll evasion. It also stated that if Anthony didn’t pay the fine within 28 days, enforcement action would be taken and he could be prosecuted in the Magistrates’ Court. The email Anthony received included a file with the actual infringement notice and specific details of his violation which he tried to download. However, the file was corrupted. His computer security software alerted him there was a security threat and disabled the file.
  • Scam artist claiming to be from Telstra

    Olive received a call from a woman who claimed she was from Telstra, saying her internet would be cut off within two hours as ‘Telstra’ had identified a number of unauthorised logins from overseas on her internet. Olive was then passed on to a technician named ‘Chris’ who made her log on to her computer and showed her the hackers’ supposed logins.

    ‘Chris’ told Olive that her bank accounts were in danger of being used by the hackers and that they had to be stopped. To help ‘Telstra’ do this, ‘Chris’ asked Olive for her bank account and credit card details and to log in to both of her accounts online, which Olive did.

    ‘Chris’ said he’d deposit $1600 into Olive’s bank account which she had to use to buy iTunes cards as soon as possible. Olive saw the money had been transferred into her account so she went and bought the cards. As instructed, she scratched the back of the cards and ‘Chris’ took a photo of them through Olive’s webcam.

    ‘Chris’ said he’d publish the codes online to help ‘Telstra’ track the hackers’ movements. He also instructed Olive not to use her computer until he called her back the next morning. Olive became suspicious at this point, so she contacted her bank and they confirmed that $1600 had not been deposited into her account and her account was now overdrawn. Her bank cancelled her credit card immediately.

  • Scam artist claiming you owe money to the tax office

    Eliza received a call from someone saying they were from the Australian Taxation Office and that she was being charged with tax fraud. The ‘Tax Office’ told Eliza she owed them $4,900 and if she didn’t pay an initial instalment of $500, a warrant for her arrest would be issued and she could face jail.

    Eliza immediately panicked as she is a single parent from the UK with a 10-year-old son and no other family in Australia.  The ‘Tax Office’ said she had to make a decision whether to pay now or be arrested within 24 hours. So Eliza gave the ‘Tax Office’ her credit card details. She was then told she’d receive a text message with a passcode which she had to provide so the arrest warrant could be stopped.

    Eliza was also told a taxation officer would visit her the next day with all the relevant paperwork advising how to pay back her full debt. However, as soon as Eliza gave the ‘Tax Office’ the passcode, she ran to the bank as she had begun to worry she’d been scammed. The bank teller confirmed that two withdrawals had been made from her account.  Eliza’s conversation with the ‘Tax Office’ lasted over an hour and in that time, she was in complete shock and disbelief that her passport could be cancelled and that she could be deported. 

  • Scam artist using your NBN illegally

    Georgia received a phone call supposedly from ‘Telstra’ and was told that her new NBN was being used illegally without her knowledge. This situation had been flagged as urgent by ‘Telstra’ and needed to be fixed immediately

    Georgia was asked to download the Team Viewer software so a ‘Telstra’ technician could remotely access her computer and look at the security settings to fix the problem. ‘Telstra’ also said it would set up an additional password for extra security on Georgia’s computer.

    While in Georgia’s computer, the technician blanked the screen so she couldn’t see what he was doing but he stayed on the phone with her explaining every step. He accessed Georgia’s emails and hacked into her PayPal account, changing the settings so that a log-in would no longer be required each time a purchase was made.

    The technician purchased gift vouchers from the United States, telling Georgia the vouchers were for security programs needed on her computer and they would be fully refunded by Telstra. After the technician ended the call, several other purchases were made from gaming stores in the US.

    Georgia turned off her computer when she realised these unauthorised purchases had been made. But then ‘Telstra’ called her back asking her to switch her computer back on. Georgia is now receiving daily calls from ‘Telstra’ Security which is apparently another division of Telstra. She is also receiving calls from private numbers claiming to be PayPal and asking for her pin number. As well as the loss of some personal information, Georgia lost $600 from the unauthorised purchases.

  • Scam artist claiming you will be charged with tax fraud

    Alex received a recorded message that the Australian Taxation Office had tried to contact him many times and that it had sent him letters which had been returned, unopened. Because of this, the ‘Tax Office’ was now taking legal action against Alex for tax fraud and evasion which would result in a warrant for his arrest.

    Alex called back the ‘Tax Office’ and spoke to ‘James who provided his badge number and a case number. ‘James’ confirmed the ‘Tax Office’ had sent Alex letters to a particular address, but Alex said he hadn’t lived there for about a year. ‘James’ told Alex he was about to be arrested and lose his assets as he owed taxes. ‘James’ said Alex could end up in jail for up to 10 years.

    Alex believed what he was being told. ‘James’ then told Alex that he could stop all of this from happening if he set up a tax debt repayment plan. All that was needed was an up-front payment of $500, then a regular payment plan could be organised with a taxation officer. Alex was also warned that this could be done in one of two ways – he could pay the ‘Tax Office’ privately, otherwise, the situation would become public knowledge and the ‘Tax Office’ would publish his name and offence in the newspaper.

    He followed the instructions he was given. He went to Coles and bought $500 of iTunes gift cards. ‘James’ then said they would need another $500 of iTunes cards for the taxation officer’s expenses so Alex bought these additional cards as well.

  • Scam artist claiming there is an issue with your Immigration paperwork

    Ali received a call on his landline from someone who worked at the Immigration Department to advise there been some changes to the immigration rules. Because of these changes, ‘Immigration’ needed new forms and because they hadn’t received the required forms from Ali, they were now taking legal action against him.

    To stop this legal action, ‘Immigration’ told Ali to go to a store and buy 24 iTunes cards, worth $100 each, then scratch each of them and read out the codes immediately. The caller threatened that if Ali didn’t follow the instructions, he would be taken into custody and face two years’ imprisonment, along with an $88,000 fine.

    He was also threatened with deportation and told that his child would be taken away from him. Ali was told that he wasn’t allowed to contact anyone, not even his wife, via any means of communication and to keep this discussion confidential. The caller gave Ali his name, badge ID and a case number, so Ali believed the call was genuine and bought the iTunes cards and recited the codes.

  • Scam artist claiming you will be deported in two hours

    Early one morning, Maya received a call from a ‘David Wilson’ who said he worked for ‘Australian Immigration’ in New Delhi. He said when Maya was leaving India, she gave the wrong date of birth on her immigration form, so she was going to be deported back to India within two hours.

    ‘David’ asked Maya to pay $930 which would mean she could be allocated a lawyer to fight her case while she remained in Australia. Maya was unsure whether to believe ‘David’ but he recited the details that she had provided to the Immigration Department for a visa. He also told Maya to go to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade website and check the phone number there to see if she was receiving the call from the same number – and the numbers were the same.

    Maya became very scared and believed him. ‘David’ then convinced Maya to make a transaction via Western Union. He remained on the phone with her for about three hours and that entire time, prohibited her from putting his call on mute, or talking to anyone in a language other than English. After Maya transferred the $930, ‘David’ asked for payment of a ‘case closing fee’. Maya said she couldn’t do that because she didn’t have any more money. ‘David’ made several more attempts but when he failed to get any more money from Maya, he admitted that he had just scammed her.

  • Scam artist claiming to be the Department of Immigration

    Scammers have pretended they are calling from Australia’s Department of Immigration advising people that some immigration rules have now been changed and they need new forms which have not been submitted and they were now taking legal action against them. 

    In order to avoid this legal action they could purchase iTune cards and scratch the back of them and read the codes to the scammers.   If they did not do this the scammers would  tell them that they would be taken into custody and face two years  in prison, along with an $88,000 fine. They have also been threatened with being deported and have their children taken away from them.  The scammers tell people that this is a highly confidential matter and they are not allowed to talk to anyone about this, not even a family member.

    Scammers have also told people that they have provided wrong details on their immigration form and would be deported in two hours.   They tell people they can avoid this by making a payment and will be allocated a lawyer to fight their case. These calls can last for hours and they don’t allow people to mute the phone or speak to anyone else while they are on the phone.

  • Scam artist claiming they are from Coles and offering vouchers

    Coles advises customers to be aware of text messages, phone calls, websites, competitions and other unsolicited contact that use the Coles brand without Coles’ permission or which promote Coles Gift Cards or other gift cards in an attempt to appear legitimate.

    These offers are predominantly attempts to collect your personal details, financial information or request payment for goods or services. Coles will never request personal or banking details in unsolicited communications and legitimate businesses or government agencies will never request payment in gift cards.

    For more information refer to: www.coles.com.au/customer-service/scam-warning.

  • iTunes Gift card scam

    Consumers are being contacted by scammers claiming to be from a government agency or business and urged to purchase iTunes Gift Cards at their local Coles store to pay for items such as a tax debt/fine to avoid arrest, an outstanding bill for goods or services or a ‘release fee’ to receive and additional pension payment. They are then requested to provide the 16-digit code (from the back of the card) over the phone. Many callers are claiming to be employees of the ATO, Centrelink, Telstra or Microsoft.

    Please be mindful of these types of requests, no matter how convincing they sound, only a scammer will ask for iTunes gift cards as payment.

    For more information refer to: www.coles.com.au/customer-service/scam-warning.

  • Emails to collect a voucher or gift card in store

    Consumers may receive emails that appear to be from a trusted Coles email address, offering the opportunity for you to ‘win’ a gift card or voucher which can be collected in store.

    These scams are sent in an attempt to obtain personal information such as a bank account or credit card numbers as well as passwords.

    For more information refer to: www.coles.com.au/customer-service/scam-warning.

  • Emails to advise a gift card has been ‘won’

    Customers may receive emails that appear to be from a trusted Coles email address, advising that they have in fact ‘won’ a high value gift card. These scams are sent in an attempt to obtain personal information such as a bank account or credit card numbers as well as passwords.

    In most cases, once you click on the link within the email, you are redirected to a ‘phishing site’ where they will request your personal information and use this to carry out fraudulent activities.

    For more information refer to: www.coles.com.au/customer-service/scam-warning.