Common online scams and how to protect yourself

If you have a mobile phone or an email address, someone, somewhere will have tried to scam you at some point. Scams are so common these days, over $455 million was lost to scammers and …

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If you have a mobile phone or an email address, someone, somewhere will have tried to scam you at some point. Scams are so common these days, over $455 million was lost to scammers and criminals over 2023, according to ScamWatch. Though many people – perhaps yourself – may think you are wise to scammer tricks, think again. Thanks to the rise of Generative Artificial Intelligence (AI) and other new scam vectors and techniques, scams have become sophisticated and harder to detect.

So, what are some of the most common scams out there, and how can you protect yourself?

Holiday scams

Scammers ramp up their targeting of holiday-makers during peak holiday times, sending out fraudulent booking information or even fake websites to grab your personal financial information. These scammers will take your money and perhaps even try to steal your identity. Check the spelling of any website and ensure that the website is encrypted (usually with a padlock in the address bar.)

Fake customer service scams

Tweeting or posting complaints about companies are routinely intercepted by nefarious actors posing as customer service. They may try to help reclaim lost luggage, re-book flights, replace your faulty item, or offer a refund. Either way, they want you to click a dodgy link which takes you to a fraudulent website so they may steal your information.

Marketplace or payment scams

One of the most prevalent online scams in Australia are payment scams, which target people through online classifieds such as Gumtree, eBay, or Facebook Marketplace. A scammer may offer you your asking price – perhaps even more – for an item you’re selling, even though they haven’t inspected it in person. They will insist on paying you via PayID/Osko or PayPal. They will tell you they’ve “overpaid” for the item, and you must refund the difference, usually in gift cards. They will mock up invoices or manipulate you into thinking they have completed a transaction; or they will ask you to set up new PayIDs or “upgrade” to premium (there’s no such thing as “premium” PayID.)

Always use official NetBank or PayPal apps on your phone to confirm any transactions – a screenshot or dodgy email from a random domain will indicate it is a scam.

Phishing or banking scams

This is one of the most common scams and you’ve likely come across it yourself. These are “bank notifications” sent through email, usually with legitimate logos and other branding to try and fool you into clicking fraudulent links. They may say your password has expired, there is suspicious activity on your account, or you are eligible for upgrades or refunds. They may redirect you to a duplicate of your bank’s website to capture your financial information and use it to drain your accounts or take out loans in your name. You can spot these with some telltale signs. These emails may address you as “Dear Customer” and have poor spelling or grammar. Further, most banks or credit card providers will never ask you for sensitive information over email. Other variations on this scam are MyGov or government services scams, urging you to login to your account to address a problem.

Other scams you should watch out for

Other scams may not be 100% online but will come through text message or via phone call. Common text message scams target motorists who may use toll roads such as those managed by Linkt. Scammers will send a text saying your invoice is overdue, which includes a fraudulent link. This may also come in the form of a phone call. Other phone scams have scammers posing as PayPal, Microsoft, Amazon, or even the Australian Taxation Office. They may threaten you with legal action if you don’t “comply” with their requests, such as installing software to “complete” refunds – just hang up and report the numbers to ScamWatch. That way you can not only protect yourself, but others, too.

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