Fraudster phone calls

Have you been getting missed calls from overseas numbers or people claiming to be from Centrelink or the Australian Taxation Office?

These are just two examples of common phone scams that have succeeded in conning many Australians into parting with their hard-earned cash.

Scams target people of all backgrounds, ages and income levels. Every year scams cost Australians millions of dollars and cause considerable non-financial harm. With banks continuously investing in security systems to thwart fraudsters, criminals are turning to the old-fashioned method of calling someone up to trick them into voluntarily handing over their personal details or even transferring cash directly into their bank account.

According to Scamwatch, phone calls are the most popular way for scammers to reach their victims. Almost 40 per cent of scams in Australia are committed over the phone, with email coming in second with 26.5 per cent, and text messaging following with 15 per cent.

Common scams
Scammers are clever and, if you don’t know what to look out for, anyone can fall victim to a scam. However, thanks to the tens of thousands of scam reports received every year, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has prepared a list of common scams to be on the lookout for.

  1. dating and romance scams
  2. investment scams
  3. threat and penalty scams
  4. unexpected money scams
  5. prize and lottery scams
  6. online shopping scams
  7. job and employment scams
  8. charity scams.


“[Phone calls are] so easy, it’s very cheap and in countries where labour is cheaper, you’ve got whole call centres devoted to doing these sort of scam calls, and I think that personal touch gives them a greater likelihood of getting more victims,” ACCC deputy chairwoman Delia Rickard said. But there are a few hints that you may be on the phone with a scammer, including:

  • if the overall quality of the call is poor
  • if the caller is pressuring you into doing something immediately, such as making a payment or handing over information
  • any calls claiming to be made on behalf of government agencies asking bills to be paid in unusual ways such as prepaid gift cards
  • if the caller is using threats or inappropriate language to coerce you into cooperating
  • if the caller is directly asking for financial details such as credit card or banking details
  • be wary of people you meet on social media or online dating sites who try to quickly move you away from the site to communicate via chat or email.


Common language patterns
Financial Fraud Action UK (FFA UK) has been working with speech pattern analyst Dr Paul Breen as part of the Take Five campaign against financial fraud. Dr Breen listened to real-life scam phone calls and found common patterns in the language fraudsters use to try to gain people’s trust.

Here are the tricks fraudsters use to con people into handing over personal details.

1. Con artists will use snippets of information about you, gathered together from different sources, to sound like they know what they’re talking about.

2. They will create a false balance of power by using apologetic language for taking up your time to make you feel sympathetic towards them.

3. They will stay patient as they continue to build up layers of seeming authenticity until you’re convinced they’re legitimate.

4. Fraudsters may pose as someone in authority such as a fraud detection manager or a police officer investigating an ongoing crime.

5. On the whole, people claim to be cautious of trusting strangers without meeting them – one in three (38 per cent) claim to “never really trust anyone” when speaking over the phone – but the analysis suggests fraudsters are well-prepared to get this reaction. Contrary to what might be expected, fraudsters may welcome your scepticism. But they will turn it into a weakness, by acknowledging your concerns about being security conscious.

6. A sign of a con may be the caller switching tempo and increasing or decreasing the pressure by creating a false sense of urgency or using understanding language.

So why are we susceptible?

Consumer research from FFA UK found the top three factors that would make us more likely to trust a stranger over the phone were “sounding like a nice person”, followed by “sounding like they know what they’re talking about” and lastly “offering to help with a problem”.

So, if you find yourself on the phone to a stranger, remember that you should never disclose security details, such as your PIN or full banking password. Listen to your instincts and do not allow yourself to be rushed or pressured into doing something you wouldn’t normally do, such as transferring money into a stranger’s bank account.

And if in doubt, just put the phone down.

Have you been receiving more and more of these calls lately? What generally tips you off to a scam?

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Written by Ellie Baxter

Writer and editor with interests in travel, health, wellbeing and food. Has knowledge of marketing psychology, social media management and is a keen observer and commentator on issues facing older Australians.

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