How to detect and avoid online scams

By David and Libby Koch for News.com.au

Digital technology, social media and e-mail have changed the way we communicate – but it also gives criminals easier access to victims.

Online scams are so sophisticated and appear so authentic that they are conning thousands of Australians out of millions of dollars. And the scams are like cockroaches — you can’t seem to kill them.

It has been particularly distressing for us to receive emails from readers and viewers who have lost money on Facebook scams recommending investing in Bitcoin or endorsing an erectile dysfunction lotion.

These are constantly reported to Facebook who take them down, but then they immediately reappear apparently using a different server.

The worst scams doing the rounds to be aware of and avoid at the moment are:

• Netflix: Fake emails claiming your account has been blocked because of payment issues and asks for bank details to resume service.

• Paypal: Fake emails wanting your bank details and passwords to confirm account.

• SARS impersonators: Telephone using an automated voice claiming you haven’t lodged a tax return and to call a number or legal action will commence immediately. A similar scam claims to be from a law enforcement agency.

• Gift Cards: Fake emails claiming you owe a company payment and they only want you to be paid by gift cards like iTunes, Google Play, Amazon and Australia Post Load&Go prepaid debit cards.

• Celebrity endorsement scams: Use a well-known personality to sell products ranging from face creams and cosmetics to weight loss and investments.

• Governance: Scammers are even pretending to be regulators and asking for personal details to renew business or company names online.

• Surprise inheritances or money owed: Usually posing as a lawyer or accountant, these scammers notify you they are holding money in your name from an inheritance or lost superannuation and want your bank details to transfer it over.

• Telco and energy bills: Fake invoices and statements from Telstra and Optus as well as Origin and AGL demanding immediate payment. Or they claim you’ve overpaid or entitled a refund and want bank details to send the money.

• Phishing never seems to go away. These are authentic-looking emails supposedly from your bank asking you to click a link to the bank website and verify all your details and passwords. It’s a con.

One wrong click of the mouse could be costly.

The list of digital scams is almost endless, and we haven’t even got to pyramid schemes, dating scams and online shopping.

Now that we’ve scared you with ways you can be conned out, here are some key ways to protect yourself.:

1. Never give your password, PIN, bank details or Tax File Number to anyone online or over the phone. Generally no legitimate company will ask for those details online. If you’re uncertain, ring the bank or telco and check whether it is legitimate. If someone rings us and asks for us to verify our details we’ll ask them to tell us what they have rather than us volunteer the information.

2. Review your security and privacy details on social media and be careful with who you connect with.

3. Choose passwords carefully. We have to remember an enormous number passwords across different accounts but it is important to make them hard to crack. Use a password authenticator app or a password keeper on your smartphone.

4. Check for clues on the authenticity of an email. If it uses a general, rather than a personal, greeting you need to beware. Fakes often have bad grammar, sound overly official and are poor quality.

5. Beware of unusual methods of payment. A lot of scammers like to work outside traditional financial systems and processes. Anyone who wants payment by a gift card or virtual currencies (like Bitcoin) is usually a crook and probably into money laundering.

6. Don’t agree to deals straight away. Tell the person who calls that you’re not interested or that you want to get independent advice before making a decision. Then you can do more research to verify an offer.

7. Visit Google and other websites to verify information.

9. If it seems too good to be true, it probably is. The most powerful filter you have against scams is your gut feel. These offers are probably best avoided or, at least, need detailed verification.

Be on your guard.

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