Stop and check – is this for real?
Be aware – scammers are impersonating government departments and trusted businesses.
This may be communicated by suspicious COVID-19 related emails, messages and phone calls. Cyber criminals may try to make contact with you and ask that you hand over your private information or provide access to your computer.
If you are contacted about COVID-19 and unsure of what to do, the the Department of Health and Human has valuable information on staying safe.
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, 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 32,000 reports in 2020, resulting in almost $12 million in losses. 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 sharing your personal information or downloading remote access software. 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.
In 2020, over 24,080 government impersonation scams were reported to the ACCC, with losses of almost $2 million.
Older Australians have been particularly vulnerable to these scams – people aged 65 and over submitted more than 30,000 Scamwatch reports and reported combined losses of $17.6 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:
If you receive contact from someone claiming to be from a telecommunications company, a technical support service provider or online marketplace, hang up. 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 – 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 the iDCARE , 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