How To Recognize An Online Scam

It’s been a particularly busy and colourful week, scam-wise in our household. Between 4 family members, we’ve received almost 20 texts or emails that we’ve identified as scams. And the range was vast: from poorly written emails offering ‘must have’ shopping deals to terse text messages reprimanding us for overdue tolls plus the classic ‘Dear mum, I’ve smashed my phone’ and everything in between. 

There’s no doubt that scammers are dedicated opportunists who can pivot fast. They can pose as health authorities during a pandemic, charities after a flood or even your next big love on an online dating platform. And it’s this chameleon ability that means we need to always be on red alert! 

How Big An Issue Are Scams in Australia? 

According to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), Aussies lost a record amount of more than $2 billion in scams in 2021. And that was with record levels of intervention from the government, law enforcement agencies and the private sector. The most lucrative scams were investment scams ($701 million) followed by payment redirection scams ($227 million) and then romance scams which netted a whopping $142 million. 

But the psychological trauma that is often experienced by victims can be equally as devastating. Many individuals will require extensive counselling and support in order to move on from the emotional scarring from being a victim of hacking. 

So, with scammers putting so much energy into trying to lure us into their web, how can we stay one step ahead of these online schemers and ensure we don’t become a victim? 

What You Can Do To Stay Ahead Of The Scammers 

While there are no guarantees in life, there are a few steps you can take so that you can quickly recognise an online scam. 

1. Slow Down 

If you’ve received a text message, email or call that you think is a scam, don’t respond. Take your time. Slow down and pause. If it’s a call, and you’re not sure – hang up! Or if it’s a text or email – delete it! But if you are concerned that it might be legitimate, call the company directly using the contact information from their official website or through their secure apps.  

2. Think First 

If you are being asked to share your personal information or pay money either via a text or phone call, take some time to think. Does it feel legitimate? Do you have a relationship with this organisation? Remember, scammers are very talented at pretending they are from organisations you know and trust. If in doubt, contact the company directly via their official communication channels. Or ask a trusted friend or family member for their input. But remember, NEVER click on any links in messages from people or organisations you don’t know – no exceptions!! 

3. If Concerned, Act Fast!  

Do not hesitate to take action if something feels wrong. If there are any transactions on your credit card or bank statements that don’t look right, call your bank immediately. If you think you may have given personal information to scammers, then act fast. I recommend calling ID Care – Australia and New Zealand’s national identity and cyber support service. They are a not-for-profit charity that provides support to individuals affected by identity and cyber security issues. 

ReportCyber is another way of notifying authorities of a scam. An initiative of the Australian Government and the Australian Cyber Security Centre, it helps authorities investigate and shut down scams. It’s also a good idea to report the scam to Scamwatch – the dedicated scam arm of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC). 

4. Get Ahead Of The Scammers 

We’ve all heard that ‘prevention is better than a cure’ so taking some time to protect yourself before a scammer comes your way is a no-brainer. Here are my top 5 things to do: 

  • Ensure all your online accounts have an individual complex password. Use a password manager – they’ll create and remember your passwords. 
  • Add multi-factor authentication whenever possible. This could be a code sent to your phone, a token or a secret question. 
  • Ensure you have security software on all your devices 
  • Close any online accounts you don’t use. It will reduce the probability of being caught in a data breach. 
  • Software updates are an important way of protecting your devices (and private info) from security vulnerabilities. So, ensure these are automated.  

Please don’t think smart people don’t get caught up in scams because they do!! Scammers are very adept at looking legitimate and creating a sense of urgency. With many of us living busy lives and not taking the time to think critically, it’s inevitable that some of us will become victims. And remember if you’re offered a deal that just seems too good to be true, then it’s likely a scam! Hang up or press delete!! 

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