Over 65s the target of clever scam

Fake billing scams are on the rise, says the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), warning Australians of scammers who are impersonating energy and telecommunications providers and demanding payments.

In the last year, the ACCC’s Scamwatch service has received 5000 reports of scams cleverly disguised as large utilities and service providers.

“The scammers typically impersonate well-known companies such as Origin, AGL, Telstra and Optus via email, to fool people into assuming the bills are real,” said ACCC Deputy Chair Delia Rickard.

“They send bulk emails or letters which include a logo and design features closely copied from the genuine provider. The bill states that the account is overdue and if not paid immediately the customer will incur late charges or be disconnected.

“Alternatively, the bill may claim that the customer has overpaid and is owed a refund, or it may simply say the bill is due and ready to pay.”

New South Wales is the top targeted state, or has at least reported most instances of this scam, followed by Queensland, Victoria, Western Australia and South Australia. The ACT, Tasmania and Northern Territory reported far fewer incidents.

Australians over 65 years of age make up the bulk of these reported cases.

“Older Australians should particularly be wary of emails pretending to be from utility companies, with people over 65 reporting the most fake utility billing scam incidents,” said Ms Rickard.

“I advise consumers to contact their communications or energy provider directly via the company’s official channels to verify that the email or letter is actually from them.

“Customers should never use the contact details provided on the suspicious email or letter but instead use an independent source to locate contact details such as a past bill or the phone book.

The scam could also take on the form of a fake Telstra bill in the mail, saying that your account is overdue and that immediate payment is required.

This was how it went for one reported case. The customer dialled the phone number provided and was asked for his date of birth and driver’s licence number to confirm his identity.

“If customers are duped into phoning scammers they will then attempt to steal as much personal information as they can.”

Other tips from the ACCC on how consumers can protect themselves

  • If you receive a bill outside of your normal billing cycle, or don’t expect to receive an overdue notice, call your provider to check whether it is legitimate.
  • If you are not a customer of the company simply delete the email.
  • Never click on links or open attachments in an email from an unverified sender – they may contain a malicious virus.
  • Never send money or give credit card details, online account details or personal information to anyone you don’t know or trust, and never by email or over the phone.
  • Keep your computer secure – always update your firewall, anti-virus and anti-spyware software, and only buy from a verified source.

Have you received anything along these lines? If so, report it to Scamwatch immediately.

Related articles:
Why scammers target the elderly
When not to answer your phone
NBN scam targeting older Australians

Written by Leon Della Bosca

Leon Della Bosca has worked in publishing and media in one form or another for around 25 years. He's a voracious reader, word spinner and art, writing, design, painting, drawing, travel and photography enthusiast. You'll often find him roaming through galleries or exploring the streets of his beloved Melbourne and surrounding suburbs, sketchpad or notebook in hand, smiling.
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