Each year scams cost Australians millions. In the last year a whopping 167,000 scams were reported, with a loss of more than $142.9 million (a 24 per cent increase from 2018). Unfortunately, the damage doesn’t stop there. Whether it’s a few hundred dollars or thousands lost in a scam, the serious emotional harm to victims and their families is something that often follows.
This week, marks Scam Awareness Week (17-21 August 2020), a campaign created by Scams Awareness Network, a group with the responsibility for consumer protection and policing in scams, cyber safety and fraud. Scam Awareness Week is all about raising awareness and encouraging you to talk about and report scams.
As you can imagine, there is a wide range of topics when it comes to this area, but this year the focus is on personal information and identity crime and how you can protect your personal and financial information in an increasingly digital environment.
So, what is identity theft?
Scammers are constantly getting better and faster at what they do and our reliance on digital technologies is making it easier for them to succeed. Once your personal information is in the hands of a scammer, it can be easy for them to use this information to steal identities for financial gain. More specifically your personal information could be used to:
- access and drain your bank account
- open new bank accounts in your name and take out loans or lines of credit
- take out phone plans and other contracts
- purchase expensive goods in your name
- steal your superannuation
- gain access to your government online services
- access your email to find more sensitive information
- access your social media accounts and impersonate you to scam your family and friends.
While it might seem tedious at times, we ensure identity checks are completed in branch, online and on the phone to protect your information. Your security is extremely important to us and is something we take very seriously.
Key stats on identity theft
- Phishing was the most common scam involving identity theft with 25 168 reports.
- Hacking had the highest reported losses of scams involving identity theft totalling $5.1 million.
- Scams involving identity theft cost Australians $15.8 million in 20191, although this figure is conservative due to underreporting.
- 42 per cent of all scams2 either targeted victims’ personal information or involved the incidental loss of personal information.
Methods/channels of identify theft?
Scammers try to ‘phish’ for your personal and financial information by impersonating government, businesses or even your friends.
Phishing scams can occur in the form of text messages, emails, on the internet and via cold-call. Electronic phishing scams can contain malicious links and attachments designed to steal your personal and financial information.
Online shopping and classified scams
Scammers set up fake websites or falsely advertise products on a genuine retailer website or on social media. Many fraudulent sellers offer luxury items such as popular brands of clothing, jewellery and electronics at very low prices. Sometimes you will receive the item you paid for but they will be fake, other times you might receive nothing at all.
Dating and romance scams
Of all the scam types, dating and romance is arguably the most deceptive as the imposter usually forms a close bond with their victim, playing their emotions and gaining their trust, before taking their money and leaving them heartbroken.The scammer’s tactics often unfold over a period of time, during which they trick you into revealing a lot of personal information about yourself, leaving you vulnerable to becoming a victim to identity crime.
A dating and romance scam typically starts with a stranger striking up a conversation with you online, whether it be on a dating platform, social media or even an online game—such as scrabble.
After developing a connection with you, they will tell you an elaborate story usually along the following themes:
- They live or work overseas, often in the military, on oil rigs, as doctors or medical staff, or in business or trade.
- They profess love or strong feeling towards you early in the relationship.
- Eventually, due some unforeseen and elaborate story – they will ask you for money, and along the way they’ll extract personal information about you.
- They will often claim to be financially well-off, with a large amount of money either incoming soon or temporarily inaccessible due to circumstances beyond their control.
- In some cases they lure you into a fake investment ‘opportunity’, in effect becoming an investment scam where you lose money and disclose personal and financial information under the guise of the ‘investment’.
- In the course of scam, you may reveal your name, date of birth, address, background, passwords or clues to passwords, financial and banking information, and sometimes copies of your identity documents.
Scammers troll social media accounts and information that you post or share such as your name, date of birth, location, names of pets, interests and hobbies, etc. can be used in harmful ways. Scammers can learn a lot about you from status updates, polls and quizzes, photos and videos, and use this information to guess your account passwords or target you with other scams.
Hacking and malware
Scammers trick you into installing malware on your device, allowing them to access or hack into your computer, mobile device or network. Once they have hacked your device they can access your personal information, change your passwords, track what you’re doing online, and restrict your access to your system.
Business email compromise scams
Scammers target businesses by posing as a regular supplier or colleague, and claim their bank details have changed to redirect payments or wages to another account. There are three primary types of business email compromise scams reported to Scamwatch:
- The scammer hacks or gains access to a businesses’ email account and intercepts a legitimate invoice. The scammer changes the bank details on the invoice to divert the payment to their own account, before sending it to the intended recipient. The recipient pays the invoice and doesn’t realise anything is wrong until the legitimate business follows up on the overdue payment.
- The scammer impersonates a CEO or manager of a business and fabricates reasons to ask for money via unusual methods such as gift cards, wire transfers or electronic currency such as Bitcoin. For example they may say that they need to purchase gift cards as a surprise for staff member, and the victim is told to keep the purchase a secret so as not to ruin the surprise.
- The scammer impersonates a staff member and contacts payroll to request a change in bank account details for their pay, diverting the person’s income to the scammer’s bank account.
Remote access scams
Scammers usually call pretending to be from a large telecommunications or IT business to discuss a ‘problem’ with your computer or internet. Usually claiming your device to have a ‘virus’ or to be ‘hacked’ the scammer will try and convince you to buy/ download a program or software to access your computer and everything on it. If you give them remote access they can install malware and steal your personal information and documents, change your passwords, track what you’re doing online, and restrict your access to the system.
How to protect yourself?
- Keep personal information private. Never send money or give credit card details, online account details or copies of personal documents to anyone you don’t know or trust.
- Lock your mailbox.
- Shred any sensitive documents you no longer need.
- Check your credit report using a reputable credit reference bureau at least once a year, this can help you catch any unauthorised activity. Visit The Office of the Australian Information Commissioner for information.
- If you’re unsure if a contact is legitimate, you should not provide any personal information.
- Organisations and businesses must also protect any information held on individuals. Scammers can gain identity information by unlawfully accessing your records. Visit The Office of the Australian Information Commissioner for information to help organisations comply with privacy laws.
Finally, report a scam if you’re suspicious. It can help others from falling victim.
If you think you may have been affected, report it to your local police and branch immediately and phone the ACCC Info Centre direct on 1300 795 995 during normal business hours to report the scam.
You can also report a scam online by completing the report a scam form here to the ACCC.
2 Comprises of 53 881 reports from the category ‘attempts to gain your personal information’ and 16 282 reports where incidental loss of personal information occurred due to a scam, such as online shopping and dating and romance scams.