A series of scams have affected many remote Aboriginal communities, with some victims having significant amounts of money drained from their bank accounts.
National organisation, SCAMWatch is now so much as urging Indigenous consumers, especially those living in rural and remote areas, to be on the lookout for scammers trying to trick people into handing over personal details or money.
The top three scams that Indigenous consumers have reported to SCAMwatch this year are:
- Government or business affiliation scams – scammers claiming to represent a well-known and trusted organisation with false claims that they are entitled to money
- Phishing scams – scammers ‘fishing’ for personal details or money
- Online shopping scams – scammers taking people for a ride when buying or selling online.
The Arnhem Land Progress Aboriginal Corporation (ALPA) says that people in Top End communities have received calls requiring payment for 'large debts' or threats of being 'taken to court' unless a specific amount of money is paid to the 'government', as well as 'winning' illegitimate competitions like 'Free iPads'. As well as fake Facebook accounts from 'people in the community' friend requesting Arnhem Land residents. According to ALPA, as many as 20 fake accounts were discovered in the two weeks.
Northern Territory Consumer Affairs (NTCA) have collaborated with the ALPA and the Traditional Credit Union (TCU) to raise awareness in remote communities of these mobile phone and Internet scams.
The organisations have made an online video, urging people not to give unidentified callers their personal information or bank details and to be mindful of identity and financial theft.
ALP media officer, Greg Stehle told NITV that the video has been very effective, with excellent feedback recieved from the community who watched it screened in both, English and Yolngu Matha.
"There were about 50 people in a room and when it finished they said, 'yeah, yeah! Good job' and people have started to come out and share their own stories of scamming."
Why are Indigenous people targets?
Stehle says that culturally, many Indigenous people have a tendency to agree to things and be polite, even if they're not exactly sure of the sentiment.
"I think people take advantage of this," he says. "Even legitimate phone companies will sell mobile phone plans, saying 'do you want broadband access?' and broadband won't even work out here where we live, yet the service will be added to someone's bill."
Stehle also says that language barriers make Indigenous Australians more susceptible to scams, with English being some people's sixth language. He says that many Indigenous people in the Top End don't fully grasp how disingenuous these scams come across, especially when they are presented in writing.
Scammers also prey on Indigenous communities by using their customs and way of life as an opportunity. SCAMwatch says that some scammers may even claim that they can assist with funds to support the community (when in reality, the money doesn’t exist and instead, there are always fees to be paid). Traditional owners and shire and council officers are often targeted, as their position of authority generally means they can approve decisions.
How to recognise a scam:
It looks like the 'real thing', but isn't
It can be hard to tell what is the real deal and what isn't. Scammers often use glossy brochures or logos from legitimate banks.
The reward seems too good to be true
Scammers target people who might be struggling a bit with their money by telling them the scam will change their life forever. These 'get rich quick' schemes might look good but in reality only the scammer makes money.
You need to sign up right away
The scammer will pressure you by saying you have to decide on the spot. Never agree to this. Always ask for documents and read them thoroughly before you make a decision.
How to protect yourself against scams:
Secure your privacy settings on Facebook
NTCA commissioner Gary Clements says that many scammers are getting the details of people through Facebook profiles that are public.
Change the privacy settings on your Facebook account so only your accepted friends can see your posts, photos and your 'about me' section like your birthday, job and education information, and only accept friend requests from people you know.
Never give your personal details to people you don't know
If you receive a call from someone who claims to be from your bank or any other organisation, don't give them your details. Call the organisation in question to check it is really them calling. Never click on a link or call a phone number in an email - use a phone directory to look up the correct number.
Check your bank statements
If you see any unusual transactions, contact your bank, credit card provider or super fund immediately.
What to do if you've been scammed:
Contact your bank
If you have sent money or information to a scammer, contact your bank immediately. They may be able to stop a money transfer or close your account if the scammer has your account details.
Report the scam
If it is a financial scam relating to insurance, superannuation, investments, or financial advice you should report it to Australian Security and Investments Commission (ASIC). Call ASIC's Indigenous Hotline on 1300 365 957 or ASIC's Infoline on 1300 300 630.
All other scams should be reported to the ACCC'S SCAMwatch website or by phoning their Infocentre on 1300 795 995 for help with reporting a scam.
Gary Clements the NTCA commissioner says that one of the biggest issues with scams is the victim's reluctance to report them.
"I think some of them are ashamed that they've been caught out, so they don't come forward," Clements told The Katherine Times.
"We're just trying to get the message out that's it's really important for them to let their family and friends know what's happening."
If you've been scammed and lost a lot of money you may need some help to get back on track. See ASIC's Money Smart guidance for contact details of people who can help you.