Money Consumer Think you’re too smart to fall for a scam? That makes you the perfect victim
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Think you’re too smart to fall for a scam? That makes you the perfect victim

Scammers are fleecing Australian victims of record sums. Photo: Getty/TND
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Australians are on track to lose more than half a billion dollars to con artists and cybercriminals this year – and those that think they’re too savvy to fall for a scam may be most at risk.

From text messages mimicking Australia Post and emails impersonating the tax office to fraudulent mobile banking apps, consumers are being bombarded with increasingly sophisticated scams.

On Monday, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) revealed scammers are expected to rake in a record $532 million by the end of 2019.

As part of National Scams Awareness Week (August 12 to 16), the ACCC is urging consumers to refresh their scam “protection and detection” skills.

The campaign’s theme is “too smart to be scammed?”, with evidence showing that people who overestimate their ability to outsmart scammers are putting themselves at risk.

“Many people are confident they would never fall for a scam, but often it’s this sense of confidence that scammers target,” ACCC deputy chair Delia Rickard said.

People need to update their idea of what a scam is so that we are less vulnerable.’’

Modern scammers are “professional businesses dedicated to ripping us off”, with call centres, convincing scripts, staff training programs and “corporate performance indicators their ‘employees’ need to meet”, Ms Rickard said.

More sympathy needed for scam victims

In addition to the financial toll, being scammed can have a devastating effect on victims’ lives and relationships, new research showed.

Nearly one in 10 Australians have been scammed in the past year, suffering an average loss of $12,000, Westpac’s State of Scams report released Monday said.

One in two scam victims were affected emotionally, including losing faith and trust in others and feeling anxious about unknown callers.

Two-thirds of victims were too embarrassed, ashamed or anxious to let their friends, family or colleagues know they had been scammed, with victims of dating and romance scams worst affected.

“While we’re seeing record levels of financial loss to scams, it’s not just our wallets that are suffering,” Westpac head of fraud Ben Young said.

“Our data shows that scammers are taxing our time, creating stress and taking a toll on our relationships.”

From advertising to discount dockets, modern consumers are “conditioned” to be susceptible to “manipulative” marketing tactics, and scams are no different, Deakin University consumer behaviour expert Paul Harrison said.

“The main issue is that it is easier to believe than not to believe,” Dr Harrison said.

“You actually do have to exist in a world where you can trust institutions and trust brand. It’s quite rough on people to say you shouldn’t fall for scams – everyone falls for scams all the time.”

A perennial money spinner for heartless criminals, dating and romance scams are a “classic example” of commons cons most people believe they’re too clever to fall for, Dr Harrison said.

“We like to think that if it happened to me, I wouldn’t fall for it,” he said.

“But everybody is potentially a victim.”

‘Sextortion’ scams on the rise

The Australian Cyber Security Centre recently warned of a new wave of ‘sextortion’ emails spreading through Australia.

The agency reported receiving more than 300 reports from Australians targeted by sextortion emails, where scammers threaten to release intimate images of victims unless a ransom is paid.

“Sextortion preys on the fears and insecurities of recipients, using stolen passwords and other social engineering tricks to convince recipients their reputations are at risk,” Crispin Kerr, manager of cybersecurity firm Proofpoint Australia, said.

Mr Kerr said email scams have evolved to include “stolen and leaked personal data”.

He urged recipients of such emails to use the free online resource Have I Been Pwned to check whether their email account has been breached.

Anyone receiving sextortion emails should “remain calm and assume the sender does not actually possess screenshots or video of any compromising activity”, Mr Kerr said.

“In almost all cases, they are merely scams that pose no risk to recipients if they do not interact with the email sender.”

Tips for protecting yourself from online scams

  • Don’t click on links, or open attachments, from suspect senders
  • Never provide your credit card or bank account details via email
  • Don’t send money to anyone threatening you with extortion – contact the police
  • Use strong passwords and don’t reuse passwords across different accounts. A password manager can help with this
  • Set up two-factor authentication
  • Visit Have I Been Pwned to check whether your email account has been breached, and change your passwords if so
  • Review your financial statements, and if you spot a suspicious transaction, report it immediately
  • To report a cybersecurity issue visit https://www.cyber.gov.au/report.

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