Settlement Guide

Consumer rights and internet scams

Source: Getty Images/Klaus Vedfelt

COVID-19 has made us more digitally connected than ever. Whether you are a new user or a seasoned netizen, the internet can be a dangerous place if you don’t know how to recognise the warning signs of a scam.

Highlights

  • ACCC has recorded over $66 million of losses to scams this year, which is a 40% increase on last year
  • Romance and dating scams affected 33.8% of reported financial losses this year
  • You can learn digital literacy and online safety skills on beconnected.esafety.gov.au   in different languages

 


 

Digital literacy is becoming an essential skill for us to stay connected with our family and friends during the coronavirus pandemic.

Good Things Foundation is a charity that runs the Australian government-funded Be Connected program to help people aged over-55s develop online skills.

The organisation’s national director Jess Wilson says phishing scams, where people are asked to provide their personal and financial details in emails, texts or pop-ups, are extremely common.

She warns people to never give any personal or credit card information to strangers over the phone.

Online scammer
Credit: Getty Images/Bill Hinton

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) recorded over $66 millions of losses to scams this year, a 40% increase on last year.

Deputy chair Delia Rickard believes many scams are possible because people are stressed and spending more time at home during COVID-19.

A common type of scam people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds are experiencing is the ‘wangiri’ scam, where you miss an overseas call that only rings once.

People with overseas connections may think the call is from a contact and return the call, but Rickard says these international calls cost many times more than a regular phone call.

And if you call back, the scammer is going to try to keep you on the phone for as long as they possibly can. If you don't know the number, you don't know anyone in that country, just don't return it.

Wilson says scammers also pose as government agencies offering refunds or asking for overdue payments to extract sensitive personal information.   

Her advice is for online users to remember that legitimate government websites will have gov.au at the end and government departments do not send information to click through on an email as they will always send you a letter.

Example of scam document
Services Australia impersonation email
Services Australia
 

The ACCC says charity scams are becoming increasingly common where donations for good causes never reach the intended charities.  

According to Rickard, for people of culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, even contacts from religious or community organisations may not always be trustworthy when it comes to donations.

When we are all of the same background, it increases our trust so we have our guard down more.

Cryptocurrency investment frauds are also ravaging people’s savings. According to ACCC’s Scamwatch statistics, investment scams were by far the most common type of scam contributing to 41% of financial losses last year.

Cryptocurrency
Getty Images
 

How investment scams work:

  • A scammer convinces you there is a great investment deal  
  • People join an impressive online platform
  • Scammers will call them regularly to show that investments have increased in value
  • Investors are offered money-back guarantees and able to initially withdraw money
  • Victims convince their family and friends to join and invest
  • A few months later the website disappears, the chat group is blocked, the person stops taking your calls and you lose all your money

Scamwatch statistics show that dating and romance scams comprise a third of reported financial losses this year, exceeding $17 million dollars in lost value.

Rickard says the golden rule is to never send the other person money.

They will try to strike up a conversation, strike up a friendship, be quick to profess their love, wait until they’ve got your trust and ask for money.

The Victoria-based Australian Filipino Community Services is one of 150 ethnic organisations running bilingual Be Connected digital literacy programs for seniors across Australia.

Scam awareness post
AFCS Scam awareness post
AFCS

Acting managing director Corina Dutlow says even tech-savvy seniors have been caught off guard by scammers sending messages on social media platforms like Facebook messenger.  

Senior client will receive a notification from a family friend saying ‘We are stuck. We are in crisis. We need money.’ It seems realistic because it’s coming from their family member’s Facebook messenger. 

Dutlow says if in doubt, don’t act impulsively, take a moment to analyse what is happening and verify with the holder or contacts of the social media account before making any transactions.    

The ACCC found that many seniors are vulnerable to exploitation as they still own landlines and are likely to answer calls.

They are home during the day. Older people will often have a little bit of accumulated money, which makes them a lot more attractive to a scammer. 

Queensland retiree Connie once gave her bank details to a stranger posing as a service provider.

Thinking that she wasn't giving out much information, Connie agreed to pay a small amount over phone.

But she soon realised something was not quite right after hanging up.

She raced to the bank and found out that $5000 – a much larger sum than Connie initially agreed to had already been transferred out of her bank account.

Luckily, her quick response meant that the bank teller was able to cancel the payment just in time before it went offshore.

Once it goes off Australia, we can’t get it back.

When it comes to online shopping, Rickard suggests only spending the amount you can afford to lose as you will not be able to exercise your consumer guarantees if you shopped at a fake store.

Warning signs of a fake online shop:

  • The price is too good to be true
  • Vendor asks you to pay by an unusual means such as cryptocurrency or gift card
  • The vendor is new on the trading site  
  • The shop website is new
  • Take a copy of the wording of the ad and put it into a Google search to see if others have been scammed before

Rickard says if you paid with a credit card or by a secure payment mechanism like PayPal, you should let your bank or PayPal know as soon as you are aware there is a problem and it is possible that you may be able to get a charge back.

Older couple holding hands on beach
Getty Images/jeffbergen

To learn about the latest online scams in your language or report a scam, visit the ACCC’s Scamwatch website.

You can also go to the Consumer Affairs Victoria website for more information.  

You can learn digital literacy and online safety skills on beconnected.esafety.gov.au in the following languages: Arabic, Greek, Italian, Simplified Chinese, Traditional Chinese, Macedonian, Spanish, and Vietnamese.

If you’ve had your identity stolen, you can contact IDCARE on 1800 595 160 weekdays from 8am to 5pm during Australian Eastern Standard Time or visit their website at idcare.org for support and advice.

 

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