When we talk about scammers we often imagine a man with a hood hidden behind a laptop in a dark room. But the reality is that scammers are real people, who may steal your money or identity by using online and digital means, they might even knock on your door or call your phone.
Scammers often target groups which they see as ‘vulnerable’, including people with disability
Keeping yourself safe from scammers can prevent financial and emotional stress
There are a number of ways you can check whether contact from someone is a scam or a legitimate cause
Lots of scammers have different ways of trying to trick people, and they often try to target groups of people which they think are more ‘vulnerable’ - including people with a disability and older people.
The scams which work are the ones which copy a legitimate way of collecting your information, so your best defence is to keep your guard up and always be sure you are connecting with a real service or business.
What information do scammers use?
Your personal information, including your name, date of birth, address and phone number can be used by scammers to access your identity.
They can then use this information to set up accounts in your name to pay for what they want, or possibly access accounts and profiles you already have linked to your savings.
Scammers may also ask for your bank or credit card details, to access your bank account directly and take money out, or they might ask for your Medicare details or National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) plan information.
Passwords or PIN numbers for accounts might also be requested.
In some cases scammers don’t ask for your information but instead tell you to purchase a gift card in their name, buy cryptocurrency - which is virtual money - or to send them actual money to pay for something they ‘need’.
Online scammers can be very clever and appear very real at times.
They may try to get you to provide your information as a requirement to sign up to a competition, to be able to read content on a website or to pay for a product through online shopping which doesn’t exist.
Online investment scams will ‘sell’ you a way to make money by buying stocks or other products, but never return any of your money or the interest promised.
Scams sent via email will often impersonate a business or Government department, but have some telltale sign that they are from a dodgy source.
An email from a scammer might have spelling and grammar mistakes, be missing the logo of the organisation it claims to be from, not include the organisation’s contact details or come from an email address which is not related to the organisation it claims to be from.
Social media and other online platforms can also be a way for scammers to contact you and send messages with dodgy links or requesting information and payments.
Over the phone scams
Phone calls can be a deceptive way for scammers to try to trick you, as you can’t see their face and they can use real phone phone numbers as a cover for their identity.
Often phone scams impersonate a business or Government department you know, for example the National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA) or Telstra.
Usually these scammers will tell you that you have a bill to pay or a debt and they may threaten that you will lose the service they are calling from if you don’t provide your details.
Scammers might also send you text messages which either come from a number you do not know, or have been masked with a number you do know, and ask you to click a link to win a prize, read an invoice or settle a debt.
These text messages can be deleted and it’s best if you don’t respond to them, usually if it is urgent a legitimate business or organisation will call you rather than text and invoices will generally be sent by email.
In person scams
Sometimes scammers will try to approach you in person.
This could involve them knocking on your door and claiming to be from a Government department or a business, asking you to sign something to enter a competition or claiming they are from a charity and asking for a donation.
For example, a common scam is pretending to be a qualified tradesperson and knocking on people’s doors asking if they want work done, such as new lights installed or a bitumen driveway laid.
These scammers will often ask for payment for the work before they are finished and may either leave with the money without doing the work or not do the work to a safe or acceptable standard.
Face-to-face scammers also come in the form of people who appear to be looking for a relationship with you, but once they have a connection to you either ask for money or use your money and information without your consent.
Known as romance scams, these most commonly happen in person but can also occur through social media accounts or dating apps and emails.
How do I protect myself?
Be careful of who you share your personal information, account details and passwords with - be sure who you are providing the information to and the reasons why they need it are legitimate.
Online products or investments which look too good to be true, usually aren’t true and it can be helpful to search for reviews of the product online to see what other people are saying about it - but make sure the reviews you’re reading also come from real people.
If you are suspicious of an online request for information or money, including an email or other message, you can call the organisation to check whether they sent the request or not.
Emails which look suspicious and contain a link should be deleted.
Don’t click the link or open any attached documents as this can allow a scammer to download software onto your device to illegally collect your information, often without you even knowing the software has been downloaded.
For phone calls which you think may be a scam, hang up and call the person or organisation back on a number which you know is legitimate.
Remember that the NDIA will never call you and threaten to cancel your access to the NDIS because of a debt.
If you are unsure about someone asking for a donation to a charity you can check whether the charity is registered with the Australian Charities and Not-for-profit Commission Charity Register, as all legitimate charities will be on the register.
With anyone asking to be in a relationship with you, it is unlikely they will ask you for money if they really care about you. If someone does ask you for money after requesting a relationship with you, ask to meet with them to talk about it in person if possible, so you can make sure they are asking for a good reason.
At any point when you don’t want to be contacted by a person anymore, you can block their phone number and social media accounts - but if they are a romance scammer you should also report them to the police.
If you come into contact with scammers pretending to be from the NDIA you can also report it by calling 1800 650 717 or emailing [email protected], which is important as the NDIA can then protect you from anyone trying to access your plan illegally.
Have you got any other tips for spotting a scam? Tell us in the comments below.