Tips to protect yourself from scams

Published on: September 5th, 2019

It’s a sad reality today that many Australians are targeted by financial scams. It’s something that is often in the headlines and we hear countless warnings to be aware that unscrupulous people could be after our hard-earned money.

The numbers around financial scams are alarming: According to the ACCC’s Scamwatch, Australians have lost $78,685,724 to scams so far in 2019. The number of scams reported also jump a staggering 45% between June and July 2019. Although we always see more scams around tax time, these figures are notably higher than the same time last year, and it’s clear that scams are on the rise.

Scams can take many forms

The fact is that the people and/or organised crime syndicates behind these scams are constantly evolving, creating ever more elaborate ways of conning you out of your money. I think it would be fair to say that most of us have received an email over the years, telling us we’re instantly rich, and all we have to do is send $25,000 to a rich Nigerian benefactor who will return $25m in exchange. As ridiculous and unbelievable as it sounds, it has worked. But as the light shines on one practice, scammers quickly move onto others.

Today, it can be difficult to spot. Online scams have used elaborately recreated documents and imagery, purporting to be from the Australian Tax Office, Australia Post, a large bank, Telstra, or Centrelink, asking you to pay a debt or transfer your money. These online communications look incredibly real and can make people feel as though they are legitimate.

The NBN is a target

We’ve also recently seen a rise in fraudulent activity related to the National Broadband Network (NBN). The rollout of the service has caused consternation and confusion for many, and scammers are making the most of it.

They are using various scams with a range of intended outcomes, from identity theft to financial gain. In one notable example, the scammer tells the unsuspecting ‘customer’ that there is a problem with their internet or phone service, and they need remote access to the customer’s computer to resolve it. With your permission, they then access your computer via a portal which they can use to put a virus on your computer, potentially locking your files and stealing your data, then asking you for a ‘ransom’ payment to return your files and data.

A good rule of thumb to remember is that the NBN does not provide services direct to the consumer. This means they will not call you directly.  If there are issues with your service, it’s your Internet Service Provider (e.g. Telstra, TPG etc.) who would be in touch.

Romance and dating schemes

Fake bills are one thing, but where it gets even murkier is how scammers can target people’s weaknesses. For example, targeting a lonely man or woman to part with their cash in an online dating scam, or convincing an elderly Australian to join a fictitious investment scheme and hand over their life savings. The impact on a person who gets caught up in a scam isn’t just financial. The stress, embarrassment, and devastation it can cause is incredibly heartbreaking.

An unfortunate fact is that just about anyone can fall into the trap. It’s not just elderly people or those who are vulnerable; there are horror stories of how everyday Australians have lost considerable amounts of money.

Tips to stay alert

From a financial perspective, the impact can be damaging, both short and long term. While for many it might be a case of thinking ‘it won’t happen to me’, the reality is that these scams will continue to evolve and may become more difficult to spot.

There are a few basic tips you can employ to avoid being scammed:

  1. Protect your personal information: Don’t simply hand out sensitive information if asked via email, such as your bank account or credit card details. Check details like your bank statements every month, looking out for charges you don’t recognise. Keep passwords and PIN numbers safe and change them regularly.
  2. Don’t click on something suspicious: If you don’t know the link or are unsure what it’s about, do some research first.
  3. Always ring the company back on their advertised phone number: If someone is genuinely calling from your bank, your telco, Australia Post etc., they will not mind if you call back on the main number and often will give you a matter number or person to speak to that will shortcut things. Always look up this number yourself; don’t call a number given to you by the caller, without looking it up first. If the caller gets angry, or presses you with urgency, it’s a red flag that something isn’t right – and even more of a reason to call back yourself.
  4. Talk to someone you trust: If you’re unsure, check with someone close to you, like a trusted friend or adviser, before making a decision to handover money.
  5. If in doubt, don’t do it: If it feels like a scam, it most likely is. So, it’s worth remembering that if it doesn’t feel right, don’t rush into doing something. You can also check out the Scamwatch website run by the ACCC, which details a range of scams and provides information on what to do if you are caught out.

General Advice Disclaimer 

The information in this blog is provided by Apt Wealth Partners (AFSL 436121 ABN 49 159 583 847) and is of a general nature only. It may not be relevant to your personal needs, objectives or financial circumstances. The circumstances of each investor are different and you should seek advice from a financial planner who can consider if the strategies and products are right for you.