Consumers urged to be wary of scams over Christmas
While most of us think of Christmas as the season of goodwill and happy holidays, some detestable crooks see it as a prime time to lure people into scams and fraudulent rip offs.
Scammers like Christmas because many people are at home and relaxed. Our guard is down at a time when we just want to have fun and drop all thoughts of the ugly side of this world.
Unfortunately, Christmas is also a time when many lonely people are vulnerable to cunning scammers who are skilled at preying on them. The scammers pretend to be their friends or appeal to their generosity by asking for money for fake charities.
ACCC’s report on scam activity in Australia in 2015
In its report, Targeting scams – Report of the ACCC on scams activity in 2015, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) reported that in 2015 it received 105,000 reports of scams, 14,000 more than the previous year. The amount lost to scams rose four per cent to $85 million.
This includes only those scams which were reported. Many people are too embarrassed to report that they were taken in by a crook masquerading as someone offering friendship or love online.
The top ten scams for 2015 identified by the report were:
- Investment scams
- Dating and romance scams
- Computer prediction software and sports investment schemes
- Nigerian scams
- Inheritance scams
- ID theft involving spam or phishing
- Fake trader websites
- Unexpected prize and lottery scams
- Reclaim scams
- Job and employment scams
The ACCC estimates that the total sum extracted by scammers from the Australian public last year was a staggering $229 million. Contact from scammers mostly comes via phone, email and the internet. A growing trend is contact via social media.
Government’s efforts to make consumers less vulnerable to scammers
As people become more aware of particular types of scam activity, scammers continue to invent new and ingenious ways to try to swindle us.
Some of the statistics in the ACCC’s report are encouraging and demonstrate the progress made by the government in its attempts to educate the public. For example, Australians are learning not to send money to strangers promising romance. Money lost from dating and romance scams decreased 18.5 per cent in 2015.
Both individuals and businesses targeted by scammers
One of the most dangerous scams targeting individuals is identity theft. Those who have their identity stolen might not even be aware that this has happened until they receive their credit card bill. One person in Canberra even found that her residential property had been sold without her knowledge by someone who had stolen her identity.
Businesses are increasingly being targeted with fake invoices, so it is important to have a checking process for all payments. The ACCC website has a Small business scams fact sheet which describes common types of scams designed to defraud businesses and gives advice to business owners who suspect that they have been targeted.
Activities of scammers display some seasonal variations
As Christmas approaches and people are planning to go on holiday, scammers are targeting sharing economy websites like Airbnb, typically creating convincing-looking fake versions of websites and attempting to get unsuspecting consumers to send them money outside the legitimate platform’s secure payment system. According to Scamwatch, reports of this type of scam have tripled since 2015.
Other scams which have seen a spike in reports towards the end of 2016 include:
- Callers who claim to be from Centrelink or the Department of Human Services and who tell their intended victim that they need to pay a fee to be sent forms to be completed in order to receive an increase in benefits
- Callers who claim to be from the Australian Cybercrime Online Reporting Network (ACORN) and ask to be given remote access to the intended victim’s computer
- Scammers who target migrants, claiming to be from the Department of Immigration and Border Protection, demanding money and threatening deportation
Don’t assume that an unsolicited phone call is genuine
Whether you are receiving a phone call at work or at home, don’t accept that the caller is from a bank, the tax office, Centrelink or another government department. Demand their name and call them back through the switchboard or contact the organisation via its website.
If someone tells you you’ve won the lottery or an inheritance and all they want is your bank account details to send you the money, you’re better off believing in Santa. Follow the simple rule – if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
It is worth checking the ACCC’s Scamwatch website and registering to receive alerts about the latest scams.