Pensioners preyed on by scammers posing as Centrelink staff will now be able to call a dedicated helpline for assistance.
The Department of Human Services says the helpline number is 1800 941 126. It is open only to Centrelink clients who are currently receiving welfare payments.
YourLifeChoices rang the number and was able to get through straight after a brief recording explaining the purpose of the helpline.
The helpline operator said the assistance available did not include attempts to retrieve any money lost to scammers.
Rather, its purpose was to collate data and create awareness of which scams were trapping Centrelink payment recipients.
Callers can remain anonymous if they wish. If they do so, they may be asked to provide a postcode or age range, but there is no obligation to do so, the operator told YourLifeChoices.
The service can point victims to resources where they may be able to get further help, such as Scamwatch, which is run by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) and cyber support service IDCARE, which helps victims who believe their identity has been fraudulently stolen.
“Scammers use many tactics to extract money or personal information from unsuspecting victims, and impersonating Centrelink’s employees is one method that is sadly becoming more common,” the department said.
More than 1270 calls have been received by the department in the past six months from people who had either lost money or had passed on sensitive personal information that might be used to steal their identity.
“The new helpline is there to provide advice and assistance to clients on what steps they need to take next to protect themselves from further financial loss. That can include increasing the security and identity verification settings around their Centrelink accounts, or referring them to external agencies which specialise in assisting scam victims.”
The launch of the helpline coincides with Scams Awareness Week and serves to remind all welfare recipients about the need to remain vigilant when contacted by people asking for money or for personal information, such as bank account details, the department said.
Last year, Scamwatch received almost 33,000 reports of threat-based impersonation scams in which callers claimed to be from a variety of government departments.
Many reports were merely to alert the service that a scammer had been in touch. But for 2800 of the victims who rang Scamwatch, they had belatedly realised that had given their personal information to a scammer.
More than $4.7 million was reported lost to fraudulent schemes in 2017, the department said.
Scammers can make their moves by phoning, emailing and texting or even by contact through social media accounts.
“One current Centrelink-related scam involves a caller who claims to work for the agency and is seeking to recover a debt,” the department said.
“The caller is aggressive and tells the victim that their benefit will be cut off within days if they do not pay up.
“Pension recipient Rosa was a victim of the scam. She was told she needed to pay a $300 penalty and would lose her pension if she did not pay. The scammer then convinced Rosa to buy $300 worth of iTunes gift cards and rang her back the next day to get the electronic codes required to redeem them online.”
For more information on protecting yourself from scams or to report a scam, visit the Scamwatch website or join the conversation online by following #ScamsWeek18 on Twitter.
For more information about scams and how to avoid them, people can also visit humanservices.gov.au.
Have you ever been contacted by a scammer? If so, tell us what information the scammer asked for? Have you lost money or your identity in a scam? If so, what was the value of your loss?