Desperate times breed desperate hopes. And that plays into scammer’s exploitative hands.
In 2020, about 444,000 Australians lost close to $1 billion in scams, says the ACCC. That looks likely to increase further this year, as lockdowns and livelihood disruptions go on and on.
Telstra has reported a dramatic increase in what’s called ‘call spoofing’. This makes it difficult to dodge an unknown or suspicious international phone number as it is over-stamped with a legitimate number from a reputable agency – like Telstra – or even from a number almost the same as your own, creating trust via a type of ‘social engineering’.
New research by Westpac shows 85 percent of Australians believe there has been an increase in scam activity since the pandemic began.
And this is borne out by Westpac customer data; the number of reported scams has doubled in the past year.
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Know 'em to beat 'em: A quick guide to scam types
So how can you make sure you don’t get caught by one of the many con artists trying to cash in on coronavirus?
Know your scams. Call spoofing is just the latest in a multiplicity of malevolent strategies…
Investment scams: This is where a little voice in the back of your brain might say: “That seems too good to be true.” Listen to it. Any promised investment return over 8 percent should set off alarm bells.
Remote access scams: These are all the dodgy emails and messages you get urging you to download software or an app… with the end goal of giving remote access to your device. Similarly…
Ransomware: This is Malware that infects your system or data in a bid to extort money from you. The Trojan-horse-type tactic will come generally in the form of a link or attachment like a word document or PDF. Get clever and don’t click.
Romance scams: Lonely, locked-down people are vulnerable people. Here, scammers gain your trust by pretending to have strong feelings for you… then promptly asking for money.
Cat fishing is a related thing, where a person pretends to be someone they are not, perhaps even someone well-known. And not a million miles from that…
Phishing: This is the old Nigerian letter scam in a different, digital guise. It will be an email or communication from a fake person – not a Nigerian prince anymore, but perhaps royalty or someone famous – desperately asking for your help.
The story will be interesting and elaborate but bottom line: They will want to transfer you lots of money and need your bank account number. Instead, they’ll empty it. Alternatively, you may have to deposit some money to qualify to be given a ‘huge’ amount. Delete.
WATCH BELOW: 4 Tips for Spotting and Avoiding Common Scams
Identity theft: This is where someone obtains your personal details and steals your identity for their own financial gain, such as taking out phone plans or even loans in your name. This stolen information could also be on-sold to other scamsters.
That’s why it’s vital to shred or tear up bank, credit card or investment statements, and protect all financial passwords in particular. Remember, financial institutions will never ask for access to your device or to your security codes, pins or passwords.
Job and prize scams: These are proving particularly successful right now, with many people with uncertain employment income and financially strapped. They’ll promise you the exciting world… but they will take what little you may have.
Tax scams: Contrary to what you may believe, the ATO is actually quite lenient with debts. In fact, it may be the biggest creditor in the country, often arranging manageable repayment plans over years for people with big tax bills.
It will never contact you and demand you pay up on threat of, for example, arrest.
You can find all the latest fraudulent activity on Scamwatch's website.
Take the new quiz to test your vulnerability to the latest scams, devised by Westpac, here.
In these unhealthy times, a healthy sense of scepticism is vital.