The consumer watchdog has received more than 300 complaints since April about unsolicited phone calls from people claiming to be representatives from the airlines Virgin Australia and Qantas.
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) says people are receiving automated phone calls from fraudsters with a message saying they have won a prize or have earned more loyalty rewards.
Consumers are then passed along to a person who asks a series of personal details, including asking for a credit card number.
ACCC deputy chair Delia Rickard says the typical value people are told they have “won” is $995.
“And they’re told they can put it towards their next holiday, so it sounds really great,” she told the ABC.
Ms Rickard says some people who handed over their credit card details to redeem the fake prize have had money taken out of their account.
“The ACCC has received 334 complaints since the 10th of April,” she said.
“That will just be the tip of the iceberg, because most people don’t get around to complaining about these things.
“Of those who have complained, only four have reported losing money, but they’ve lost $3,000 between them so it’s not insignificant.
“Hopefully, the message is getting through that if you’re contacted out of the blue, and you’re asked for your credit card details, never ever give them [out].
“Only ever give your credit card details when you’ve initiated the contact and you’re absolutely confident about who you’re dealing with.”
Scam ‘believable’, ‘very slick’
Tasmanian resident Jenny Ward was staying with relatives in Launceston when she took a call on the family’s landline.
She says she flies regularly with both Qantas and Virgin, and when she took the call it seemed “believable”.
“I picked it up – I’m wary of scams – and I thought it could be another scam because I have received phone calls telling me there’s something that’s wrong with my computer,” she told the ABC.
“But this one was different, and I thought, ‘Oh, this sounds great.” It was a recorded message congratulating me as a Virgin customer for having been first in a draw and that I’m going to receive $995 credit for travelling, as long as I have a current credit card.
“And I said, ‘Yes,’ and it moved me on to someone who actually spoke to me and told me, ‘Congratulations, we’ll pass you on to someone who’ll tell you how you’ll be receiving this’. That passed me on to someone else who started to ask me information.
“I said, ‘If you’re from Virgin, you would know I’d have a current credit card and you wouldn’t need to be asking me that? I’m wondering if you’re a scam’, and they hung up.
“This one seemed very slick. It didn’t have that big pause that you get and then someone with an overseas accent quite often from a call centre.”
Ms Rickard says it shows how crafty scammers have become.
“We’re seeing more and more use of call centres, and the majority of scams are still delivered by telephone these days,” she said.
“And it’s easy and quick with web technology to make mass calls.
“One thing people need to understand is airlines, if they’re making a call to you, they don’t have automated calls, they have a person on the phone when they’re contacting you.”
In a statement on its website, Virgin Australia says a number of Australian businesses have been targeted in the scam, including banks and other airlines.
“We strongly advise customers to hang up immediately if you suspect you have received a scam phone call,” the statement said.
“If you have provided your details, please contact your financial institution immediately.
“Virgin Australia takes your privacy very seriously and would like to assure our customers that their data remains secure.”
Qantas says its consultants “will always call customers directly to discuss their bookings and do not use an automated phone system when contacting customers”.
“Recipients are advised not to provide personal details or respond to the automated prompts,” a spokesman said.
“Scammers use a range of mechanisms, including “harvesting” programs that scour numerous sources on the Internet, to look for customer information.
“It is also often the case that the recipients of the scam are not customers of the company purporting to make the phone call – which is why individuals who are not necessarily Qantas customers might have also received a phone call.”
Further information about automated scam calls is on the SCAMwatch website.