How to Avoid the Scam­mers’ Net

Reader's Digest Asia Pacific - - Front Page -


With scam­mers stay­ing one step ahead of author­i­ties and tar­get­ing the el­derly, it’s never been more im­por­tant to know how to spot and avoid their traps

ROY MCCRINDLE, 82, had no­ticed his com­puter was slow so he was re­lieved when Mi­crosoft called him to of­fer a so­lu­tion. The caller directed him to a web­site to down­load a pro­gram cost­ing $70.

Roy watched as the bo­gus com­pany ac­cessed his com­puter and fid­dled around on his screen. It wasn’t long be­fore he re­alised some­thing wasn’t right. “It wasn’t as if I didn’t have prob­lems with my com­puter; this is why I fell for it,” he says. “I knew the guy was telling me lies but I some­how still went along with it.”

Once the call was over, he called his son im­me­di­ately. “Dad,” he said, “You’ve been scammed.”

Im­me­di­ate ac­tion saved Roy’s com­puter – and bank ac­counts – from fur­ther at­tack, but the in­ci­dent left Roy won­der­ing how he could have been duped so eas­ily.

He’s not alone. Roy was one of more than 20,000 Aus­tralians over 65 who re­ported be­ing tar­geted by scam­mers to the ACCC’s Scamwatch last year. Many vic­tims, how­ever, do not re­port their ex­pe­ri­ences. While all of us are vul­ner­a­ble, there has been

a huge growth in the num­ber of older Aus­tralians af­fected: they com­prised 26% of re­ports made to Scamwatch in 2016, up from 21% in 2015.

Delia Rickard, deputy chair of the ACCC, says more over-65s than ever are cashed up and ac­tive on­line, mak­ing them ob­vi­ous tar­gets. “The mes­sage – for ev­ery­one – is never, ever give any­one who contacts you ac­cess to per­sonal in­for­ma­tion or re­mote ac­cess to your com­puter,” she says.

Cy­ber­crime is big busi­ness – very big busi­ness. Al­most $300 mil­lion was lost in Aus­tralia to more than 200,000 scams in 2016, ac­cord­ing to the ACCC.

While Aus­tralia has some of the best de­tec­tion and pre­ven­tion mea­sures in the world, so­phis­ti­cated crim­i­nal syn­di­cates con­tinue to find new ways to breach cy­ber de­fences and tar­get the weak­est points in the sys­tem.

“All con­sumers should be aware of scams,” says Clive van Horen, ­ex­ec­u­tive gen­eral man­ager, re­tail prod­ucts and strat­egy, at the Com­mon­wealth Bank. “Scam­mers tar­get cus­tomers who are less dig­i­tally savvy, more trust­ing and less likely to pick up any­thing sus­pi­cious.”

We’ve iden­ti­fied five of the most com­mon scams that tar­get the el­derly.

TELE­PHONE SCAMS Older peo­ple are of­ten ap­proached by phone as they are more likely to use a land­line. A pop­u­lar scam to emerge re­cently starts with a phone call to your land­line pur­port­ing to be from the bank. When you call your bank to check, the scam­mers are still on the line ready to take your per­sonal de­tails and then clear your ac­count. “We’ve seen lit­er­ally over $100,000 taken out of peo­ple’s ac­counts this way,” Rickard says.

Or, as in Roy’s case, tele­phone scam­mers call of­fer­ing to fix your com­puter so you give them re­mote ac­cess. Another ploy is to con­vince you that they need your bank­ing pass­word and lo­gin to help catch a scam­mer, and empty your ac­count in the process. What to look out for: Tele­phone scams are au­to­mated calls, sent at ran­dom un­til some­one picks up. Gen­er­ally there is si­lence at the start of the call, then the scam­mer starts talk­ing when they know you are on the line.

Al­ways ask for the name and em­ployee ID of the per­son you are speak­ing to, and never share your per­sonal, credit card or on­line ac­count de­tails over the phone un­less you made the call. Mi­crosoft and Tel­stra do not mon­i­tor your com­puter. If in doubt, just hang up.

EMAIL SCAMS You’ll re­ceive an email think­ing it’s from your bank, a util­ity com­pany or another rep­utable source. You click through to the link pro­vided or open an at­tach­ment, which al­lows the scam­mer to down­load soft­ware so they can ac­cess your com­puter and trace ev­ery­thing you do. Some­times the email asks you for per­sonal in­for­ma­tion such as your user­name, pass­words or credit card num­ber, which the scam­mer then uses to ac­cess your ac­count and take out money. It’s known as ‘phish­ing’.

“A bank would never ask you for your pass­word,” stresses van Horen. “A real warn­ing sign is if they ask you to click a link and en­ter your pass­word.”

Ac­cord­ing to Craig Mc­Don­ald, CEO of Mail­guard, a web and email se­cu­rity

Never share your per­sonal, credit card or bank ac­count de­tails over the phone un­less you made the call


■ Pro­tect and reg­u­larly change your pass­words.

■ Stop and think be­fore you click on any email or at­tach­ment.

■ In­stall anti-virus soft­ware on your com­puter.

■ Safely store or dis­pose of your per­sonal and fi­nan­cial in­for­ma­tion such as state­ments, re­ceipts and fi­nan­cial doc­u­ments.

■ Check your state­ments reg­u­larly to iden­tify any ir­reg­u­lar trans­ac­tions. Know when your util­ity bills are due and who your providers are. If an on­line bill comes at the wrong time or from a com­pany that isn’t yours, delete it.

■ Don’t do in­ter­net bank­ing us­ing a pub­lic com­puter or pub­lic Wi-Fi.

■ If you think you’ve

ser­vice, scam­mers are very clever at what they do. “It’s be­com­ing much harder for peo­ple to iden­tify what’s real and what’s not.” What to look out for: Check all emails care­fully. Look at the logo and the email ad­dress. Are there spell­ing or gram­mat­i­cal mis­takes? No bank will re­quest per­sonal in­for­ma­tion via an email. Ever. “It’s just not in com­pa­nies’ in­ter­ests to com­mu­ni­cate via email as emails go astray,” ad­vises ­Mc­Don­ald. “Just click delete.” been scammed, call your bank. In some cases your money may be re­funded, but you need to be quick.

■ Most banks of­fer fa­cil­i­ties that en­able you to lock and block cer­tain types of trans­ac­tions im­me­di­ately. You can do this on­line, by phone or in the branch.

■ Al­ways ac­cess in­ter­net bank­ing sites by typ­ing the bank’s ad­dress into your web browser, not by click­ing through from email links.

■ In Aus­tralia, re­port scams to Scamwatch at au/re­port-a-scam or the Aus­tralian Cy­ber­crime On­line Re­port­ing Network (ACORN) at https://re­port. In New Zealand, re­port scams to net­­port; or call 0509 NET­SAFE (0508 638 723). Ev­ery re­port helps these agen­cies to build a pro­file of the scam­mers so that they can warn oth­ers.

If you’re sus­pi­cious, do an in­ter­net search us­ing the ex­act names or word­ing of the email. You’re likely to see hun­dreds of oth­ers have also been tar­geted. Many scams are iden­ti­fied this way.

IN­VEST­MENT AND RO­MANCE SCAMS Of­ten the amount you might lose to a scam­mer is rel­a­tively small – more than half of peo­ple who re­ported los­ing money to the ACCC

lost less than $500. Crim­i­nals send out thou­sands of spam emails or au­to­mated phone calls know­ing that if just a small per­cent­age is suc­cess­ful, they will make money. But some scams are ‘low vol­ume, high value’ – where the scam­mer must in­vest a sig­nif­i­cant amount of time grooming the vic­tim, for a much higher pay-off. These scams caused fi­nan­cial losses of nearly $ 50 mil­lion in 2016, with older Aus­tralians the most com­mon vic­tims, ac­cord­ing to the ACCC.

The scam­mers make con­tact with you via email or so­cial me­dia, of­fer­ing ei­ther love or an un­be­liev­ably good in­vest­ment op­por­tu­nity. Over time they build a re­la­tion­ship with you un­til you’re in so deep you will­ingly start send­ing them money. What to look out for: Any of­fer that looks too good to be true gen­er­ally is. Never send any­one money un­less you know them per­son­ally and trust them.

AD­VANCE FEE FRAUD One of the most com­mon scams in­volves the scam­mer ask­ing for an up- front fee for a boon, such as a cheap hol­i­day, a prize or a loan. For ex­am­ple, the scam­mer might tell you that you’re en­ti­tled to a re­bate, in­her­ited a large sum of money or won the lot­tery, but you have to pay a fee to re­ceive it. If you pay the fee you will never get the prize in re­turn, or if you pro­vide your credit card de­tails you may find they take out more than they said. What to look out for: Any un­ex­pected ex­cit­ing or valu­able of­fer that comes via email, let­ter or phone should be re­garded as sus­pi­cious, es­pe­cially if it asks you for an up-front cost such as ad­min­is­tra­tion, postage fees or ship­ping costs. Never send money or give your credit card de­tails to peo­ple you don’t know. Le­git­i­mate busi­nesses such as banks or loan providers will not ask you to pay an ad­vance fee. And again, if a get-rich-quick scheme seems too good to be true, it is.

STAND-OVER TACTICS Like the hit men of old, scam­mers will go to ex­tra­or­di­nary lengths to ex­tort money from peo­ple. Of­ten, the scam­mer pre­tends to be some­one in au­thor­ity, such as an em­ployee of a gov­ern­ment agency to which, they say, you owe

If in doubt, pick up the phone and check it out. Banks and busi­nesses have de­part­ments ded­i­cated to help­ing cus­tomers who are be­ing scammed

money. They’ll threaten you with fines, charges or even ar­rest un­til you agree. Some of the most com­monly im­per­son­ated Aus­tralian agen­cies in­clude the Depart­ment of Im­mi­gra­tion and Bor­der Pro­tec­tion, Aus­tralian Tax­a­tion Of­fice (ATO), Cen­tre­link and the Aus­tralian Fed­eral Po­lice, while in New Zealand the In­land Rev­enue Depart­ment and Im­mi­gra­tion New Zealand are also favourites among scam­mers. “The guy was so au­thor­i­ta­tive – he shut down any of my queries with ‘I’m the one ask­ing the ques­tions, not you’,” says one re­cent vic­tim of a tax scam.

Other va­ri­eties of these nasty scams in­volve you ac­ci­dently down­load­ing ran­somware that locks your com­puter un­til you pay a fee, or even hit man scams, where some­one contacts you out of the blue pre­tend­ing to be a hit man who’s been hired to kill you. Of course, they’ll spare you if you send them money. What to look out for: Rep­re­sen­ta­tives of gov­ern­ment agen­cies will never threaten you for money, and will pro­vide their name and af­fil­i­a­tion. If you’re sus­pi­cious, call the switch­board and ask to speak to the per­son.

FIGHT­ING BACK Just as cy­ber­crime is grow­ing and be­com­ing more so­phis­ti­cated, so are gov­ern­ment and busi­ness at­tempts to thwart it. Scamwatch works to ed­u­cate the pub­lic and dis­rupt scam­mers, for ex­am­ple by li­ais­ing with banks and credit trans­fer agen­cies to help them recog­nise the lat­est scams. They also work with Aus­trac, a gov­ern­ment fi­nan­cial in­tel­li­gence agency that mon­i­tors crim­i­nal fi­nan­cial trans­ac­tions to iden­tify and warn peo­ple who could be un­wit­tingly send­ing money to scam­mers.

Ac­cord­ing to van Horen, the Com­mon­wealth Bank is in­vest­ing huge amounts of money in pre­ven­tion and de­tec­tion tech­nol­ogy. “Scam­ming costs a lot of money and we would rather pro­vide cus­tomers with peace of mind and 100% se­cu­rity guar­an­tee,” he says. “This means us­ing so­phis­ti­cated mon­i­tor­ing tools and al­go­rithms, and even ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence to iden­tify at-risk cus­tomers who might need more mon­i­tor­ing.” The best ad­vice? If in doubt, pick up the phone and check it out. Banks and busi­nesses have de­part­ments ded­i­cated to help­ing cus­tomers who are be­ing scammed, and they’re wait­ing for your call. “Cus­tomers feel em­bar­rassed,” ad­mits van Horen. “But pick up the phone and call the 24/7 helplines. We try and pro­tect cus­tomers’ money – there is no down­side to seek­ing help.”

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