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How you could lose money chasing the $1,000 flood payment

People outside house near flooded road.
Scammers have been pretending to be government agencies and other legitimate organisations to catch flood victims in phishing attacks. (Source: Getty)

Scammers have been posing as insurance companies, government bureaucrats and charities to con money out of unsuspecting flood victims.

Business Australia general manager products Phil Parisis said scammers had their finger on the pulse when it came to targeting destabilising world events.

“Be suss as a starting point,” he advised.

When a disaster like this happens, scammers may send through emails posing as a government agency offering financial assistance, such as the $1,000 disaster payments, and get people to click on a link.

In these phishing attacks, when someone clicks on the link, usually this triggers the download and installation of a piece of software onto the device to give the scammer unlimited access.

From there, a fraudster can record while a person logs into their online banking on a computer or phone.

“That’s the most common way for people to get done,” Parisis said.

Parisis wouldn’t be surprised to see scammers pretending to be the State Emergency Service and other government organisations, as well as insurance companies and charitable organisations.

He also noted the barrier to entry for phishing scams was now very low, which was likely contributing to the increasing prevalence of scams. He said it was quite easy to buy software from the dark web to access someone’s computer.

What about random calls?

Parisis hasn’t heard of call-based scams yet but he expects scammers will jump on the opportunity soon.

He said these typically asked victims to take action, such as a common ploy where scammers pose as Amazon employees and ask people to hand over their credit card details to make an overdue payment for Amazon Prime.

What made these scams so convincing, he explained, was the use of a recorded message from a legitimate company or organisation at the beginning before connecting the person to a call centre.

Scammers run rife in times of disaster

Scammers take advantage of disasters when people are at their most vulnerable.

Throughout the COVID pandemic, scams have almost tripled. Many fire victims were also scammed during the 2020 bushfires.

Scammers have also targeted fundraising efforts for Ukrainians amid the ongoing conflict.

How to avoid scams

Westpac’s general manager of fraud prevention and financial crime, Chris Whittingham, has some tips for avoiding scams:

  • Don’t trust unexpected calls or emails: If there’s someone claiming to be from a reputable organisation, stop to consider what they are asking for

  • Use PayID: This is a more secure way of making transactions

  • Ignore suspicious email links: Whatever you do, don’t click on links in emails that ask you to make a payment

  • Act fast: Don’t put off a call to your bank if you think you’ve been scammed - immediate action gives banks the best chance to catch scammers

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