Scams Awareness Week 2020

It’s the ACCC’s Scams Awareness Week this week, 17-21 August, and this year the theme focuses on personal information and identity crime.

Scams are constantly evolving and adapting to new technology. Our regular use and reliance on technology provides scammers with more opportunities to trick people into giving away their personal information. Scammers can use personal information to steal identities for personal and financial gain.

Losing your personal information can make you more susceptible to future scams and identity theft. Stolen personal information can be sold illegally and used to make convincing cold calls to their victims.

There are a large number of reasons why scammers want your personal information. Some of these reasons include: stealing money, taking loans out under someone else’s name, gaining access to online services, or accessing your email or social media accounts to ask your friends and family for their personal information.

To protect your personal information, first you should know how the common ways scammers steal your personal information.


Pronounced much like ‘fishing,’ scammers will try to ‘phish’ for your personal information by impersonating government organisations, businesses or people you know. They might pretend to have an existing commercial or personal relationship with you to gain access to your information.

Phishing scams come in the form of texts messages, emails, social media messages or a phone call. An example of a common Facebook phishing scam is when a friend on Facebook sends you a message with a caption such as “OMG look at this picture of you” followed by a link. That link can not only steal your personal information, but it will then prompt your Facebook Messenger to send all of your friends the same message from your account.

Phishing scams are the most common scam reported to Scamwatch, and it is likely that you have already seen one of these in your day to day life.

So how do you protect yourself from a phishing scam?

  1. Stop and think
    This kind of scam often tries to make the victim feel rushed. Before acting stop and think: is this a legitimate website? Why would this person or company ask me for this information or ask me to click this link?
  2. Don’t open or click
    Never open an attachment or link in unexpected tests, social media messages, pop-up windows or emails. Not even if it appears to be from a trusted source. If you are unsure if the company or person contacting you is legitimate, you can use tools like Google to do some research.
  3. Find and verify
    If you are still unsure, don’t take the risk. Contact the company or person directly using contact details you have found online or in a phonebook- never use the contact details in the message, email or phone call in question.

Online shopping and classifieds scams

Another common scam is fake websites or falsely advertised products set up to look like a genuine website or social media.

Sometimes it can be hard to tell the difference between a genuine seller and a fraud. Most fraudulent sellers will offer luxury items, such as designer brand items or electronics, at a very low price. If an offer is too good to be true, be sure to do your research because most of the time it is too good to be true.

These scams are not limited to online retailers. Scammers often set up fake ads on classified websites to trick you into thinking you’re dealing with a legitimate contact. A common example is the selling of pets online. Many scammers will ask for a non-refundable deposit for rare or pure breed animals then disappear. The accounts used for these kinds of scams are usually fake, therefore, the person can be hard to track down.

The best way to protect yourself from these kinds of scams are:

  1. Research
    Shop from trusted retailers or do your research before deciding to purchase. The best way to know if a website is a scam is to put the exact name of the website into a search bar followed by the word “scam.”
  2. Stop and think
    Be wary of offers that are too good to be true and don’t be pressured by ‘limited offers’ or end of sale ‘countdowns.’ These are tactics used to create a sense of urgency which can make a person buy something impulsively.
  3. Pay secure
    Use a secure method of payment, such as a credit card or PayPal. If the seller only offers you methods such as wire bank transfer, money order, pre-loaded gift cards or electronic currencies like Bitcoin, then don’t take the risk. Reputable sellers will always offer secure ways to pay, and if you are buying from a classified only use cash once you have inspected the product or received the service.
  4. Don’t overshare
    If you are signing up for a loyalty program or creating an online account, limit the amount of personal information you share. Consider checking out your shopping as a guest or leaving non-mandatory fields blank.

Dating and romance scams

Arguably the most deceptive scams are dating and romance scams. The scammer will form a close bond with their victim, playing their emotions and gaining their trust, before taking their money and leaving them heartbroken.

Typically, this kind of scam starts when a stranger strikes up a conversation with you online, whether it be on a dating platform, social media or even online games such as scrabble. After developing a connection with you, they will tell you a story that goes a bit like this:

  • They live or work overseas, often in the military, on oil rigs, as doctors or in the business trade.
  • They will profess love or strong feelings towards you early in the relationship.
  • At some point, there will be some ‘unforeseen’ and elaborate story where they ask you for money. By now, they have extracted personal information about you through conversation.
  • They might claim they are financially well off but, due to circumstances out of their control, they can’t access their money.
  • There have been cases where people have been lured into fake investment opportunities. This may be a disguise for an ongoing scam where you lose your money and personal information over a longer period of time.

The best way to protect yourself from these scams is to:

  1. Be alert
    If a stranger approaches you, always consider that if you haven’t met the person, you can’t be certain who you are talking to. Refuse any request to move the conversation to a private channel and be careful about any personal information you disclose.
  2. Research
    They may send you a social media profile as ‘evidence’ they are who they say they are. Don’t let this persuade you. Run a reverse image search using Google or TinEye. These profiles will not have images of the person who is conducting the scam. They find the images on sites such as Google Images and use fictional names.
    Search the name of the person who is trying to connect. Romance scammers are known to re-use their often unique fake names.
  3. Say no
    If they ask for money, a loan, your banking details, personal information or copies of your documents- just say no. These are signs that you might be dealing with a scammer. Never agree to transfer money for someone else, they might be trying to use you as a tool for money laundering.

Remote access scams

Scammers usually call pretending to be from a large telecommunication or IT business and convince you there is a problem with your computer or internet. They sometimes claim that your computer is being hacked and they want to help you catch the hacker- don’t be fooled, they are the real hackers.

The scammer will request remote access to your computer by convincing you to purchase or download software. The software is usually some form of malware which can steal your personal information, change passwords, track your online activity and restrict your access to the system.

Protect yourself from this kind of scam by:

  1. Be alert
    If you get an unexpected call about your computer, hang up immediately. If you are unsure, ask for the name of their company and their name then hang up. If they are pretending to be a legitimate company- such as Telstra or Optus- call their customer service number to confirm the call came from them. Do not use contact details supplied by the person in question.
  2. Say no
    Never allow remote access to your computer, even if they claim to be from a reputable company. Never give your personal, banking or account details to anyone over the phone, unless you placed the call to their customer service number.
  3. Protect
    Secure your device by keeping your operating system, software and plug-ins up to date. Protect your accounts and WiFi network with a secure password and only purchase software after you have researched both the program and the company or person selling it. If you are unsure, don’t take the risk.

Where to seek help

If you suspect you have fallen victim to a scam or you may currently be involved in a scam, you are not alone. In 2019 alone, 334,000 Australians lost a total of over $634 million to scams.

There are steps you can take to limit the damage and protect yourself from further loss.

  • If you have sent money or shared banking details with anyone, contact your financial institution immediately.
  • If the scam occurred on social media or a legitimate website, report it to the platform involved.
  • If you have given your personal information to a scammer, visit IDCARE. IDCARE is Australia and New Zealand’s not-for-profit national identity and cyber support service.
  • Obtain a credit report from a reputable credit bureau.
  • Make your friends and family aware of scams. Awareness is our best defence against scams.
  • Visit Scamwatch for more information or subscribe to the Scamwatch email alerts.