Online thieves are targeting elderly Australians more than ever

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Sadly, Christmas is a time when older Australians must be more vigilant than ever for scammers. And the thieves are hard at it to deceive us, going on the latest figures from the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s (ACCC) Scamwatch.

In November, 31 per cent of all money lost ($5 million) belonged to people aged 55 to 64. Another 29 per cent of the money lost this month ($4.7m) belonged to those aged 65 and above. Combined, money lost by those aged 55 and above added up to $9.7m in November, up 78 per cent from $5.5m in October.

Money lost to all types of scams rose to $18.7m in November, up 20.2 per cent from the $15.6m reported in October.

The advice is to be particularly careful when answering phone calls from unfamiliar people. There was a massive 114 per cent spike in deception via the phone in November, with Australians losing $7.7m.

Proofpoint ANZ area vice-president Crispin Kerr says: “All holidays and major events provide an unfortunate opportunity for scammers to capitalise on and this year will be no different. Therefore, it’s not surprising in the run up to Christmas to see larger amounts of money being lost, with scammers looking to cash in on the busiest time of the year.

“Statistics about the older generation being targeted are always disheartening to see. Our advice this Christmas would be to employ the same level scepticism and awareness online that you would in any real-life business transaction. With phishing returning to the number one spot as the most reported type of scam, people should continue to be wary of all unsolicited communications, especially those asking for sensitive information and remember that if it seems too good to be true it probably is.”

Phishing – trying to gather personal information using deceptive emails and websites – was the most common method of fraud attempted, but the costliest were investment ($9,430,248) and dating scams ($3,202,172).

Given that many Australians are still reluctant to venture into stores due to the pandemic, it is little wonder criminals are also targeting online shopping. At the outset of the Christmas shopping season at the end of November, Scamwatch warned Australians to be careful when buying gifts.

“More people have been shopping online this year due to COVID-19 restrictions and scammers are now targeting people doing their Christmas shopping,” said ACCC deputy chair Delia Rickard.

“Scammers create fake websites that look like genuine online stores, offering products at very low prices and victims will either receive a fake item or nothing at all.”

“They also post fake ads on classified websites, often claiming they are travelling and someone else will deliver the goods, but the item never arrives, and the victim can no longer contact the seller.”

Losses to online shopping scams have increased 42 per cent in 2020, and Scamwatch has received more than 12,000 reports of online shopping scams and almost $7 million in reported losses.

“Watch out for popular products being sold at prices much lower than on other websites and sellers requesting payment through direct bank transfer or cryptocurrency,” Ms Rickard said.

“Do your research by checking independent reviews of online stores or the seller’s history on classified websites.”

Another scam to be aware of if you have made recent purchases online is fake parcel delivery notifications via text message or email.

“Australia Post will never ask you to click a link to enter your personal details, nor will they ask for credit card details or a fee to deliver your packages,” Ms Rickard said.

“If you have been the victim of a scam, contact your bank as soon as possible and contact the platform on which you were scammed to inform them of the circumstances.”

ACCC’s top three scams to avoid, according to The Little Black Book of Scams

  • Advance fee fraud

More than half of all scams in Australia are advance fee frauds.

They include any scam where a scammer requests fees upfront or personal information in return for goods, services, money, or rewards that they never supply. The upfront payment scam is the most common version of advance fee fraud and involves a scammer promising you a share in money or goods in return for upfront payments or personal information. The promise is never delivered upon.

Avoid arrangements with strangers requesting upfront payment via money order, wire transfer or international funds transfer. It’s rare to recover money sent this way. Conduct a search online using the exact wording of the offer to check if it is legit – many scams can be identified this way. And don’t open suspicious or unsolicited emails- just delete them.

  • Lottery, sweepstakes, and competition scams

These scams try to trick you into giving money upfront or your personal details to receive a prize from a lottery, sweepstake, or competition that you never entered. Scammers typically claim that you need to pay fees or taxes before your ‘winnings’ or prize can be released. You may also have to call or SMS a premium rate phone number to claim your prize. If you pay, you will never receive the promised prize and lose every cent that you send. You may also be up for a hefty phone bill if you called a premium number to collect your prize. If you have provided personal details, your identity could be misused too.

  • Dating and romance scams

The most common dating and romance scams involve scammers creating fake profiles on legitimate dating websites. They use these profiles to try and enter a relationship with you so they can get a hold of your money and personal details. The scammer will develop a strong rapport with you, then ask for money to help cover costs associated with illness, injury, travel costs or a family crisis. Scammers seek to exploit your emotions by pulling on your heart strings.

Remember, the rule of thumb is: if it looks too good to be true, run a mile!

Merry Christmas.

Have you detected any suspicious activity in recent weeks? Have you been phoned or emailed by bogus operators? Has the fear of being scammed put you off buying gift cards online?

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Written by Will Brodie

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