Serious scam warning as Aussies ‘lose life savings’

The ACCC has warned Aussies to stay vigilant about bank-impersonation scams.

·3-min read
Logos of the big four banks and Australian money.
Some Aussies have lost their entire life savings to bank impersonation scams. (Source: Getty)

Aussies have been warned by the consumer watchdog to be wary of scam phone calls and texts that appear to be from their bank.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) said it had received a number of “alarming” reports of Aussies “losing their life savings” to the highly sophisticated impersonation scams.

Reports to the ACCC’s Scamwatch indicated scammers were using new technology to trick their victims, by making the call appear to come from the bank’s legitimate phone number or by sending a text that appeared in the same conversation thread as genuine bank messages.

Scamwatch received 14,603 reports about bank-impersonation scams in 2022, resulting in more than $20 million in losses. Total losses to phone and text scams increased significantly last year, with more than $169 million lost.

“We are incredibly concerned about bank-impersonation scams because they can be so convincing, they are very hard to detect,” ACCC deputy chair Catriona Lowe said.

“What’s equally worrying about this particular scam, is that it is emptying every last cent out of victims’ savings accounts, with losses averaging $22,000 and more than 90 reports of losses between $40,000 and $800,000. This causes both financial and emotional devastation.”

Lowe said the ACCC received a report from one man who had lost more than $500,000 after receiving a call from someone claiming to be from a major bank’s security department wanting to know if a payment had been authorised.

In another instance, a man lost $38,000 after receiving a scam text about a “suspicious transaction”.

“The scam text appeared in the same conversation thread as legitimate messages from his bank. He called the number in the text and was put through to a member of the banks’ fraud team. Unfortunately, it was an elaborate scam and he lost everything,” Lowe said.

What is a bank-impersonation scam?

Bank-impersonation scams impersonate the Big Four banks as well as other financial institutions. Communications often have a sense of urgency to them, such as fraudulent activity raising red flags, or a frozen account.

“It is critical to remember that no matter how legitimate the call or message seems, a bank won’t ask you to urgently transfer funds,” Lowe said.

“If you receive an SMS with a telephone number to call, do not use it. Instead, call your bank direct on a number you have sourced yourself. Likewise, hang up if you receive a call from someone claiming to be from your bank requesting you to transfer money to ‘keep it safe’. Ask for a reference number and call your bank back using contact details you have found independently.”

Top tips for avoiding scams

Stop: Take your time before giving money or personal information.

Think: Ask yourself if the message or call could be fake.

Protect: Act quickly if something feels wrong. Contact your bank and report scams to Scamwatch.

Signs of a bank-impersonation scam:

  • There is a sense of urgency or threat to the message – “your bank account has been accessed”, “your bank account has been locked”, “a payment has been made from your account. If this was not you, please call (phone number)”.

  • The message looks different to other messages in the SMS thread, such as different wording or phrases used.

  • The message may contain a suspicious-looking link. Never click on links.

  • The SMS has a telephone number to call – always find your bank’s phone number independently.

  • The caller will tell you to transfer money to a different account to ‘keep it safe’ or for ‘further investigation’. This is not standard procedure for a bank. It is a scam.

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