IF YOU received a call out of the blue from the Tax Office saying you had a tax debt you had to pay immediately or be arrested, what would you think?
If Telstra called you and said there were internet problems in your area and they needed remote access to your computer in order to help you otherwise they would disconnect your service, what would you do?
While it would be understandable if your initial reaction might be fear or panic, this Scams Awareness Week - May 21-25 - Australians are being urged to Stop and check - is this for real?
These calls are examples of threat-based impersonation scams, about which the ACCC's Scamwatch received almost 33,000 reports in 2017. About 85 per cent of these reports indicated the scammer had been in contact by telephone.
The scammers pretend to be from a government agency or well-known, trusted business, and use threats to pressure or scare you into giving them money or your personal information. They may threaten that you will receive a fine, that you will be charged additional fees, that your internet will be disconnected, that the police or debt collectors will come to your home, or that you will be taken to court, arrested or even deported.
These scammers and their threats can seem genuine and frightening. They make you feel as if you've done something wrong or that there's some urgency and you must do what they say immediately or suffer the consequences.
And, unfortunately, many people have believed these threats. According to Scamwatch, more than $4.7 million was reported lost and more than 2800 people gave their personal information to these scammers in 2017.
Older Australians have been particularly vulnerable to these scams. In fact, people aged 65 and over submitted more than 5800 of the Scamwatch reports and reported losing almost $1 million last year.
If you're contacted unexpectedly and threatened by someone saying they're from a government agency or trusted business, always consider the possibility that it may be a scam - then stop and check if it's for real.
- Verify the identity of the contact through an independent source, such as a phone book or online search, then get in touch with them to ask if they contacted you. Don't use the contact details provided by the caller or in the message sent to you.
- Never send money, give your banking or credit card details or other personal information to anyone you don't know or trust, and never by email or over the phone.
- Know that a government agency or trusted business will never ask you to pay them with gift or store cards, iTunes cards, wire transfers or Bitcoin.
- Don't open suspicious texts, pop-up windows or click on links or attachments in emails - just delete them. These could infect your computer with malware.
- Never give anyone remote access to your computer if they've contacted you out of the blue - whether through a phone call, pop-up window or email - and even if they claim to be from a well-known company like Telstra.
IF YOU realise you've lost money or given your personal details to a scammer, there are steps you can take straight away to limit the damage and protect yourself from further loss:
- If you've sent money or shared your banking or credit card details, contact your financial institution immediately. It maybe able to stop or reverse a transaction, or close your account.
- If you've given your personal information to a scammer, visit IDCARE Australia and New Zealand's not-for-profit national identity and cyber support service. It can work with you to develop a specific response plan to your situation and support you through the process.
As scammers are often based overseas, it is extremely difficult for government agencies to track them down or for law enforcement to take action against them. So take the time to warn your friends and family about scams.
During Scam Awareness Week from May 21-25, visit www.scamwatch.gov.au/scamsweek2018 for more information on scams and tips on how to avoid them.
You can visit the Scamwatch website - www.scamwatch.gov.au - at any time to get details on the latest scams and to report a scam.
Scams Awareness Week is an initiative of the Scams Awareness Network, a group of Australian and New Zealand government agencies with responsibility for consumer protection and policing in scams, cyber safety and fraud.
- This article first appeared in thesenior.com.au