Scammers are taking advantage of the COVID-19 pandemic to send fake texts and emails pretending to be government authorities, the World Health Organisation and telecommunications companies.
By
Rae Johnston

13 Apr 2020 - 1:56 PM  UPDATED 13 Apr 2020 - 2:12 PM

According to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, hundreds of new scams have been reported since the coronavirus pandemic began. Fraudulent offers to help apply for government payments, gain access to superannuation and even selling "cures" for COVID-19 are all on the rise. 

What the scams look like

Most of these scams look like legitimate text messages or emails from government departments, banks, travel agents, insurance companies and telecommunications companies like Telstra or NBN Co. 

The text messages and emails have links they want you to click on and attachments they want you to download, installing viruses and malware designed to steal your personal information.

The Northern Territory Police are warning about one particular scam where criminals are sending fake "COVID-19 relief payment" emails offering payments of $2,500 if you complete an application form. 

Some scams are also trying to get remote access to your computer or make you pay for services they say they provided you. 

A call from an unknown number is always a red flag, and at the moment some scams are starting with an unexpected phone call claiming to be from a superannuation company. These calls are offering to help you access the money in your super or checking if you are eligible for benefits due to COVID-19 hardship. 

"Scammers are cold-calling people claiming to be from organisations that can help you get early access to your super," said ACCC Deputy Chair Delia Rickard. "For most people, outside of their home, superannuation is their greatest asset, and you can't be too careful about protecting it."

"The Australian Taxation Office is coordinating the early release of super through myGov, and there is no need to involve a third party or pay a fee to get access under this scheme."

You might also receive an email claiming to be from experts who have information about COVID-19, as well as access to vaccinations and cures for sale. 

Protect yourself 

The best way to protect yourself from scammers is to never click on a link in a text message, social media message or an email - even if you think you can trust the source. 

If someone calls asking for personal information like your bank details, hang up right away and call the organisation yourself (after checking for the right number). Never let someone who has contacted you access your computer remotely, even if they say they are from Telstra or the NBN.

Don't let anyone pressure you into making on-the-spot decisions. Any legitimate assistance that is available to you now will be available to you after you've taken some time to research it yourself. 

For accurate information about COVID-19, the Department of Health and the World Health Organisation websites are your best source. Fake online shopping sites selling "cures" will usually ask for an unusual payment method - like wire transfer, pre-paid gift cards or Bitcoin. 

It's always a good idea to install trusted anti-virus software on your computer. 

If you're scammed

The first thing you should do if you've been scammed, or seen a scam, is make a report on the Scamwatch website. Don't be shame - warn your friends and family about any scams you've come across. It's easy to fall victim to them, and it's not your fault if you do.  

If you've sent money or shared your banking details with a scammer, contact your bank right away - they might be able to able to stop the payment, or close your account if the scammer has your account details. 

You can also contact IDCARE, a free Government-supported service that helps people whose identity has been stolen, and the Australian Cyber Security Centre

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