Scammers are resorting to threatening phone calls – even death threats – to steal from Australians.
Last year, consumers lost a record $340 million to fraudsters, with a shocking 500 per cent surge in scams involving threats.
One victim, who chose to remain anonymous, recalled a frightening phone call during which the scammer threatened to kill, according to the Scamwatch agency.
A recent report by Australia’s consumer watchdog, the ACCC, found threat-based scams were some of the most successful tactics of 2017.
ACCC deputy chair Delia Rickard said scammers often try to scare you into parting with money or personal information by using threats ranging from fines, disconnecting your internet, taking you to court, arrest, deportation and personal harm.
“Most scams are taking the form of very threatening phone calls,” she told The New Daily.
“The calls are quite convincing and harassing. They might even keep you on the phone until you do as they say.
“They are preying on all different aspects of our emotions – fear, or hope in the case of lottery scams, or love when it comes to romance scams.”
The ACCC told consumers to remember they always have the power to hang up the phone.
Other popular scams
Scammers posed as representatives from the Australian Taxation Office, claiming that victims had unpaid tax debts that they needed to pay immediately.
Many victims reported being threatened with arrest or legal action, should they fail to pay the caller straight away with iTunes gift cards.
The ACCC’s Ms Rickard said scammers like using iTunes gift cards because they are anonymous and difficult to trace.
Another common payment method requested by scammers is by cryptocurrency. This became particularly popular with the rise of Bitcoin.
“They will threaten you and ask for payment via cryptocurrency, usually Bitcoin, one reason being there is a lack of understanding around cryptocurrency by the majority of the general public,” Ms Rickard said.
“The other common scam is tricking people to invest in a fake cryptocurrency and it turns out it doesn’t exist.”
When fidget spinners became the latest craze in schools across Australia, many Australians found themselves ripped off by fake online shopping retailers.
Fidget Australia posed as an online fidget spinner retailer. Consumers did not suspect any foul play until their order failed to turn up and they realised the retailer’s website had suddenly been deleted.
Watch out for these tactics
Dr Cassandra Cross, an online fraud and cybercrime expert from QUT, warned consumers to expect a legitimate approach, not the stereotypical email with spelling errors.
“They’re now approaching victims with some air of legitimacy,” she said.
“They will use current events or anything to make it seem more legitimate, playing on people’s insecurities and using the power of instilling authority.”
She said that for some victims, the trauma from the violation of trust is more difficult to overcome than the financial loss.
The ACCC said to keep an eye out for the following signs of a scam:
- If someone claims to be from a big corporation such as Telstra or a government agency like the tax office, never use the contact details of the caller. Call the organisation’s official phone line and check for yourself.
- Don’t provide any personal information.
- Only get involved in an online romance with someone you can meet in person. Romance scammers often claim they are travelling for business.
- If an email looks legitimate, do not reply or click on any links. Check the ‘from’ field for the email address. These are often renamed to appear genuine. For example, firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Don’t accept a friend request on social media from someone you don’t know, even if they may have some mutual friends. Scammers snatched $15 million over social media platforms despite it accounting for just 3 per cent of overall scams.
- Never give anyone remote access to your computer if they have contacted you out of the blue.
- Nobody – other than scammers – takes payment in iTunes cards.