We’ve all heard about the Nigerian Prince who needs to transfer money out of the country and has selected us to send it to. Haven’t we? Phone and internet scams are all around us, in fact, they're so common that the ACCC recorded more than 105,000 scams a year, which resulted in losses of more than $84 million. That's only the ones that were reported: many more went unreported, often because the victim was too embarrassed to do so.
So to help you be on the lookout for, and hopefully avoid falling into their blackening pit of online deceit, we've put together a list of 9 most common scams.
1. The urgent transfer
What it looks like: You receive an email from a friend, family member or senior staff member telling you they need urgent access to funds. The story adds up (they're probably overseas and short on time). Besides, it comes from their email address and looks authentic.
What's really happening: Their email account has been compromised and you're transferring your money straight into the scammer's bank account.
What can you do to avoid it: Do not reply to that email. Create a new email to that friend and ask them if they are ok, or if you can, privately message them on social media to confirm their status.
2. The mail that never came
What it looks like: That credit card you applied for never seemed to arrive.
What's really happening: Scammers accessed your letterbox and intercepted the card before you had a chance to receive it. They've changed the PIN and are now using it for themselves. In the process, they're racking up a significant debt in your name. And its not just your credit card mail they will take.
What can you do to avoid it: Put a lock on your letterbox, or use a PO Box, or at least check your mailbox regularly.
3. The parcel pickup
What it looks like: A postal delivery company sends you an email telling you that you have a parcel that can't be delivered. If you can't collect it within 7 days it will be destroyed. But first, you need to print off a label to redeem your package.
What's really happening: Rather than printing a label, you're actually downloading dangerous ransomware. Once it's installed, scammers can use it to lock files and even destroy them. The only way you can take back control is to pay them. Making sure your computer is regularly backed up can also help counter-effect the impact of ransomware.
What can you do to avoid it: This one is really scary as all you can do to get back control of your computer, and files, is to pay them. Think before you click on anything you aren’t sure of: Are you expecting a parcel? Why would it not have been delivered? Pick up the phone and call before clicking.
4. The tax refund
What it looks like: You receive an email from a government agency advising you of a tax refund. To receive it, all you need to do is follow the link to your bank and enter your account details.
What's really happening: The link takes you to a fake site set up by the scammers. Instead of giving your account details – and internet banking password – to your bank, you're actually delivering this vital information straight into the scammer's hands.
What can you do to avoid it: Unless you are instigating a transfer, never put your bank account details into any site you are not sure of.
5. The 'free' wifi
What it looks like: You're at the airport or hotel and need to connect your laptop or mobile to the internet. When you search for a connection, you're in luck. There's a free hotspot right nearby.
What's really happening: You've actually just connected to a fake network. This allows a scammer to intercept all network traffic and steal your personal information. And the pain doesn't stop there. From now on, every time you turn on your device, you could be transmitting the same 'free' wifi to other unsuspecting users.
What can you do to avoid it: You should only connect to wifi that you know is legitimate and, if in doubt, pay to access a secure network. You should also make sure your anti-virus software is up to date and your firewall is turned on.
6. The unrealistic job offer
What it looks like: You respond to an advertisement that promises you'll earn good money from the comfort of your home as an 'accounts processor'. All you need to do is set up a bank account and forward any money that comes into it, onto another account. You even get a cut of each transaction for your troubles.
What's really happening: You're being used by fraudsters as a “money mule”: an everyday person with no criminal history through whose bank account they'll move the proceeds of crime.
What can you do to avoid it: This is money laundering, done by organized crime, and you can be implicated and go to jail. Easy money doesn’t exist. Check, research, and qualify before you go the easy route.
7. The speeding fine
What it looks like: A government body/law enforcement agency, emails you to tell you that your vehicle has been caught speeding. You need to download the photo they've taken to confirm you were driving.
What's really happening: The link you click on downloads ransomware to your computer. You'll have to pay the scammers to get back the files they encrypt.
What can you do to avoid it: Same as #3, this is hard to back out of and will end up costing you a lot of money. Do your research before you click on things you are not sure of.
8. The computer problem
What it looks like: You receive a call from your internet service provider. They've detected a virus on your computer and it's sending error messages. The good news is that they can fix it, so long as you give them remote access.
What's really happening: You've handed control of your computer to a scammer. They'll probably try to steal your personal data or hold your computer to ransom until you pay.
What can you do to avoid it: Never hand over remote access to anyone! If it’s that bad, take it to the service providers storefront and ask them about it.
9. The store voucher
What it looks like: A well-known brand uses its social media account to post that it's giving away gift vouchers or free flights or another very attractive perk. To claim your prize, all you need to do is like the post. Like this photo, or share it if it tugs on your heartstrings, or type Amen then share, or type the solution then like.
What's really happening: You've fallen victim to a 'like farming' scam. The page isn't authentic but has been set up by a scammer who's trying to get as many likes as possible. They'll on-sell these likes - and your profile - to other fraudsters, who will start pushing spam posts in an effort to get hold of your credit card data.
What can you do to avoid it: Oh this is so common! If it’s not a friends post or a known source, stay away, don’t get sucked in by emotions or because you think you are clever enough to know the answer.
AND THAT'S JUST THE BEGINNING . . .
As the world becomes alert to the prevalence of scams, scammers are responding by becoming more creative. So, as these 9 scams start to become less effective, it's likely that newer and more sophisticated ones will take their place.
RULE OF THUMB
Email: Don’t open or download any links or attachments that you are unsure of. Research them prior to doing so. Get on the phone and check the source. Some emails may seem to come from a reputable name YourFriend, but when you click on that from name, you will find the real source: YourFriend <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Social Media: Only respond to known posts – friends and businesses that are familiar to you.
This list was prepared by Your Spending Plan, an online financial education program where you’ll learn how to take control of your finances, step-by-step, identifying financial goals you want to achieve, and planning a path to your financial security.