How to avoid scams during COVID-19

COVID-19 has changed almost every part of our lives. We’re having to shop, work and live very differently. One thing that hasn’t changed is the ever-present threat of scammers trying to get their hands on our money.

With social distancing restrictions still in place, digital banking services have become the easiest ways to bank from home. Scammers will unfortunately try all kinds of tricks to acquire your personal details, so here are some ways to protect you and your money.

Scams – what to look out for

Scam attempts can come in many forms including email, SMS and phone calls. More often, the scammers will pretend to be a credible source, including banks, government departments, computer software and utilities companies. And they target both individuals and businesses.

In most scam attempts, urgent language is used to try to get you to click on a link, provide personal information and even make a payment on the spot. It’s also common for scammers to threaten their victims if the individual doesn’t comply with their demands.

While this can be confronting, particularly on a phone call, it’s best to ignore the email/SMS or hang up. Then contact the organisation the scammer was pretending to represent and confirm if there actually is an issue with your account. Make sure you look up the contact details yourself.

Some common scams include:

  • Hoax emails or SMS from banks, the Australian Tax Office and other trusted organisations.
  • Remote access requests to gain control of your computer. Scam callers will impersonate telcos or internet service providers claiming that there is a virus or a problem with your computer or broadband connection.
  • Romance scammers use social media, online forums and dating websites to vulnerable look for victims. Scammers create fake online profiles to form relationships with vulnerable people. Once a relationship has been established and some trust gained, requests for money commence. These requests can even take the form of blackmail in an effort to extort money from victims.
  • Investment scammers use emails, online ads and websites offering ‘risk free investments’ with ‘high returns’ to potential investors.
  • Ransomware is software unsuspectedly downloaded from a website or in an email attachment. This type of software encrypts all the files on your computer in the background while you use it. Once it completes this task, the computer will fail to operate normally. Typically, an error message is displayed on your screen, along with details on how to pay a ransom or fee to get access to the key that will unlock all your computer files.
  • Scammers often use threats to frighten their victims into handing over money. Claiming to be a government official (Australian Tax Office, Federal Police, Border Force), the criminals seek immediate payment of a fake tax bill, fine or other debt. They often threaten the victim with prosecution unless they pay.
  • Buying and selling scams are where criminals offer non-existent goods for sale via digital marketplaces (eBay, Gumtree). They can also take the form of invoices to businesses demanding payment for a fictitious trade directory listing or advertisement. Scammers also create fake retailer websites designed to look like legitimate online stores.

Identifying scams

Scams are designed to appear legitimate, with many hoax emails and websites using copies of real logos to trick their victims. However, there are some ways to help you spot a scam.

Ask yourself these questions BEFORE you act

  • Do you have anything to do with this organisation? Are you even a customer?
  • Does it contain any spelling or grammatical errors?
  • Genuine emails tend to use your name in the salutation. Is this email too generic?
  • Is the sender’s email address significantly different from legitimate emails you’ve received from the organisation?
  • Are you being asked to provide personal or sensitive information?
  • Is the phone number associated with the company? Verify it on their website.

For more tips on how to identify a hoax email, check out our story.

Protecting yourself against scammers

When it comes to playing your part in protecting your money from scammers, there are some simple tips to stay safe online:

  • Never share your passwords or one-time security codes with anyone.
  • Beware clicking on links. Make sure you know where the link will send your browser. Hover your mouse over the link to see the web address. If in doubt type the address yourself, especially if it’s a link supposedly sent from your bank.
  • Beware when opening attachments. A good rule of thumb is not to open any attachments that you are not expecting.
  • Regularly change your online passwords, especially if you think that somebody else might know them.
  • Check your bank balances and transactions regularly – log in daily or weekly. If you see anything unusual, contact CUA.
  • Regularly check the federal government’s website which lists current scams and ways to protect yourself.

Digital banking helps us manage our money more conveniently and, armed with the right knowledge, more securely. If you’d like to learn more about CUA’s digital banking services, we have a range of online tools to help.

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