Common Internet Scams in Australia (and How to Avoid Them)

According to the ACCC, between 1 January and 1 May 2022, Australians lost more than $205 million to phone and internet scams in Australia. Unfortunately, that’s a 166% increase compared to the same period in 2021.

What’s of greater concern, though, is the ACCC’s research suggests that only 13% of people who are scammed report their losses via the dedicated Scamwatch website. While all of that is concerning, the good news is that Scamwatch has advice on how to spot and protect yourself from popular scams.

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The top phone and internet scams in Australia

At the time of writing, these were the top 10 scams in Australia (according to Scamwatch statistics) that led to the biggest financial losses:

  1. Investment scams: $193+ million lost
  2. Dating and romance scams: $14+ million lost
  3. Remote access scams: $12+ million lost
  4. False billing scams: $9+ million lost
  5. Online shopping scams: $3+ million lost
  6. Classified scams: $3+ million lost
  7. Phishing scams: $3+ million lost
  8. Identity theft scams: $3+ million lost
  9. Hacking: $1+ million lost
  10. Rebate scams: $1+ million lost

Scamwatch also details the most common scams in Australia by how many times they’ve been reported in 2022:

  1. Phishing scams: 27,000+ reports
  2. Online shopping scams: 7,000+ reports
  3. False billing: 7,000+ reports
  4. Remote access scams: 5,000+ reports
  5. Identity theft scams: 5,000+ reports
  6. Hacking scams: 5,000+ reports
  7. Classified scams: 4,000+ reports
  8. Investment scams: 3,000+ reports
  9. Ransomware and malware scams: 1,000+ reports
  10. Dating and romance: 1,000+ reports

Note that these dollar amounts and report numbers were accurate at the time of writing and are regularly updated.

It’s important to report any suspected scams to Scamwatch using the dedicated ‘Report a scam’ link. We have a page dedicated to phone scams, but read on for more about common internet scams, and what you can do to avoid them.

Dating and romance scams in Australia

Dating and romance scams are initiated by either online dating websites, social media, or email. Some scammers may call out of the blue as an initial introduction (also called ‘catfishing’). The key thing to look out for is a strong expression of emotional interest in a very short time frame. Scammers will then encourage you to move away to more private communication, either phone, email, or instant-messaging service.

Romance scammers tend to work hard at winning your trust and affection. They may even send gifts or claim to book flights to visit you, but they’ll never actually arrive. Once they have your trust, the scammer will indirectly or directly ask for some form of payment: money, gifts, banking, or credit card details. The reasons for payment may range from blackmailing you with personal information or pictures you’ve provided to claiming they need the money for an emergency.

To protect yourself, Scamwatch advises never sending money to anyone you’ve never met before. Pay attention to your instincts and the warning signs above. You can run an image search of an online romantic interest to see if the image corresponds to who they say they are (romance scammers may use other people’s photos). Pay attention to inconsistencies in stories or bad spelling and grammar. And be careful of the personal information you share on social networking sites.

Online shopping scams in Australia

Online shopping scams usually take one of two forms: either a fake online shopping retailer posing as a legitimate one, or a fake ad on a legitimate online retailer’s website. These scam sites tend to offer expensive items—including clothing, jewellery, and tech gear—at incredibly low prices.

If you buy an item from a fake online retailer, you may receive nothing or you may be sent a knock-off item. The main thing that flags an online shopping scam is the requested payment method. If a site asks you to pay via money order, wire transfer, or preloaded debit card, it’s worth scrutinising the validity of this retailer as it’s unlikely you’ll see your money again if you pay by these methods.

One of the best ways to spot a fake online retailer outside of payment methods is to use a search engine to find reviews for the website to see if it’s legitimate. Pay close attention to badly worded refund or returns policies, and only pay via secure payment services such as PayPal. Also, keep an eye out for the closed padlock or ‘https’ in the web address bar to indicate a secure online retailer.

Classified scams in Australia

On classified websites such as Gumtree or Facebook Marketplace, scammers pose as genuine sellers and post fake ads. These ads may also appear via email or social media. Be wary of any classified ad that doesn’t include images. If something feels off about a classified ad that does have images, perform a reverse image search to find out if they’ve been pinched from a legitimate seller.

Classified scams cut both ways, though, meaning you may be targeted by a classified seller or buyer. If you’re a seller, beware of any stories that ask you to pay money to the buyer or that promise payment after you’ve posted an item. For buyers and sellers, using reputable payment services like PayPal offer a degree of protection against scammers, as long as you avoid paying via features like ‘friends and family’, which removes reimbursement protection.

Like with online shopping scams, any deal that seems too good to be true probably is. Also keep an eye out for sellers that claim to be unavailable, either travelling or living overseas, and insist on payment before discussing and organising the delivery of an item. Avoid paying via cheques, direct bank transfers, or international money transfers where possible. Also avoid being paid by cheque if you’re selling (particularly if the cheque arrives with more than the agreed amount, as this may lead to a refund scam).

Hacking scams in Australia

Hacking scams are another form of attempting to gain personal information, albeit via technology tools used to access your computer, mobile device, or network. Malware and ransomware, security exploits, and payment redirection scams are all examples of hacking scams.

If you’re unable to log in to your device, email address, social media account (or any other online accounts), you may have been hacked. Keep an eye out for new icons on your devices that you didn’t install and pay attention to whether your devices are slower than usual. Hackers may use pop-ups to encourage you to fix your device, or personal files may have been deleted or moved.

Unexpectedly large internet or phone bills (for data) may also be a sign that you’ve been hacked, and so is missing money, or your phone is switched to ‘SOS only’ mode (you can see this in place of the reception bars).

To protect yourself, keep your devices up to date and use antivirus software, anti-malware software, and a reliable firewall to protect the devices on your network. Source this software from a trusted source, like Bitdefender or Norton.

If you think you’ve been hacked, use antivirus software to scan your device for viruses and malware. Any doubts? Reach out to a computer specialist. Use a virtual private network (VPN) when you’re connecting devices to unknown WiFi networks, plus use passwords and PINs that are difficult to guess. Try to update passwords regularly, too. Get into the habit of scrutinising email attachments, particularly those from unknown sources, before opening them (and scan them with antivirus software).

Ransomware and malware scams in Australia

Malware and ransomware scams come from online sources such as websites, downloaded files, or in email attachments. Ransomware is an obvious infection because it locks your personal files and a fee is demanded to unlock them. Malware, though, is more insidious and can operate in the background to access your files and potentially track what you’re doing.

Be wary of any email or online link that encourages you to install software as this can contain malware. Whenever you download files, including trusted software, scan it with reputable antivirus or anti-malware software to ensure it’s not infected. Be wary of sites claiming to offer free downloads of music, movies, games, or anything else that typically costs money.

Ransomware is a nastier kind of malware that, once it infects a device, will automatically lock access to personal files and will generally direct you to a link to pay for a code to unlock them again. If you have been infected by ransomware, you may be able to use sites like No More Ransomware to unlock your files for free. Alternatively, your antivirus software may block or help with unlocking ransomware-infected files. You may also need to contact a computer professional for help.

Avoid opening links or email attachments from unknown sources and be wary of free downloads for things that typically aren’t free. Ensure your devices are up to date with the latest operating system and software/application patches, including antivirus and anti-malware software. Also run regular scans with antivirus and anti-malware software to keep your devices clean and running as expected.

FAQ

Online scammers will try to gain your trust but may get overly emotional or aggressive if things aren’t going their way. They will generally contact you out of nowhere and ask for particular actions, including payment via gift cards.
Always keep your internet-connected devices, software, and apps up to date with the latest patches, which tend to include security updates. Also use strong passwords, activate two-factor authentication (where available), and install antivirus software from a reputable provider like Bitdefender or Norton.
Investment scams lead to the biggest financial losses for Australians. Be overly cautious when it comes to investing money, verify financial advice is coming from an ASIC-listed financial advisor, and check the list of companies you should avoid investing with.
Nathan Lawrence
Written by
Nathan Lawrence

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