The COVID-19 pandemic has unfortunately provided an opportunity for scammers to prey on the fear, financial uncertainty and need for information that many Australians have been facing recently. Since the COVID-19 crisis began, the Australian Government’s Scamwatch has received over 3,550 scam reports, with more than $2,240,000 in reported losses.1
Scamming can take many forms. With technology rapidly becoming more sophisticated, it is becoming even easier for scammers to find out your personal details, access your computer, and create fake websites, documents and even companies.
Common COVID-19 scams
Phishing refers to a scam method where someone contacts you, usually via email, text or a pop-up ad on your web browser, and asks you to click on a link or open an attachment. These links and attachments are programmed to steal your personal and financial information.
A number of COVID phishing scams may look like genuine emails from the Australian Government or MyGov website and offer health or COVID testing information, financial help or support payments. Other scams impersonate well-known businesses, including banks, travel, insurance or telco companies and ask for personal information or payment for a service or product you did not ask for.
These scams generally involve an unsolicited phone call where the caller says they want to discuss or help you with the government’s early release of superannuation measures. They may request information about your superannuation accounts or ask you to do something to access a benefit (such as unlock or merge your account).
Online shopping scams
These usually involve selling products that don’t exist such as vaccinations or cures for COVID-19, or protective products such as face masks, hand sanitiser and so on.
Supplier bank detail scams
These scams have been targeting both businesses and consumers. This type of scam makes it look like someone you actually do owe money to – such as a tradesperson or service provider – is contacting you to provide different bank details for your payment.
When to be suspicious of a scam:
- If it is an unsolicited request for money or credit card details. Government departments and reputable companies (aside from charities) will never contact you for money, ask you to change your information or ask for your credit card details.
- If you receive an unsolicited request to click on a link or open an attachment.
- If you are offered free products or services.
- If something seems too good to be true, it very likely is.
- If you are being pressured or manipulated into making a decision quickly so that you ‘don’t lose money’.
- If you are asked to use unusual payment methods such as a money order, wire transfer, international funds transfer, preloaded card or electronic currency such as Bitcoin.
- If you receive unsolicited emails or phone calls offering financial advice or opportunities.
- If you are sent a document with spelling mistakes, odd language, grammatical errors, or contains images or logos that are blurry.
- If a URL or reply email has unexpected letters, words or symbols.
What should you do if you are unsure?
- Don’t be afraid to verify the legitimacy of a contact by finding their contact details through an independent source (such as an online search or invoice details) and calling them back to check on what you have been told. If they are legitimate, they will be more than happy for you to do this.
- It can also be worth sanity-checking anything that rings even small alarm bells with a trusted family member, friend or neighbour. Scams tend to resemble each other and their methods can become well known.
- You can google ‘scam’ along with some other keywords related to your interaction (e.g. company name, person’s name, what they want or how they did it). There will often be online forums where people have encountered and documented the same scam.
What can you do to protect yourself?
- Remember many scammers are highly organised, professional and experienced, and may provide official-looking websites and documents.
- Never give out your personal details, bank details or credit card details to any unsolicited contact. The person contacting you may not be who they say they are and even if they know some of your personal details, don’t let this fool you.
- Never click on a hyperlink from a text, a social media message, or an email, even if it appears to come from a trusted source. Make sure you are 100 per cent sure you know who a link or attachment is from and that you have requested it before you click on it.
- Never give someone you don’t know remote access to your computer, even if they say they are a telecommunications provider or other technical ‘expert’.
- Keep up to date. Keep an eye on Scamwatch so you know what type of scams are currently out there. ASIC’s MoneySmart website also has a lot of information about how to protect yourself from falling victim to a scam.
- Help protect older relatives or friends by talking about scams with them and helping them understand how they work. Unfortunately, older Australians can be more at risk as they can be less savvy with technology and more trusting of people in general. They may also be targeted by scammers who may believe they have more money on hand than younger people.
What can you do if you have been scammed?
If you are worried you may have been scammed, contact your bank immediately to see if the transfer can be stopped. Also contact ASIC for further follow-up and advice. Unfortunately, there often isn’t an easy way to get your money back once it’s gone so preventing it happening in the first place is a much better option.