How to avoid getting scammed online

Nobody likes to get scammed. It can be embarrassing to say the least, expensive and at times devastating and life threatening at its worst. But with the ease of online communication, sharing of data and transferring of funds…it is something that is becoming increasingly common,  as the scammers become increasingly sophisticated. And its not just adults getting duped. Many a young person has been led down the scamming path as they are enticed by the purchase of gaming add on’s (think Fortnite costumes, weapons and dance moves) where the credit card is handed over to fake sites for the purchase of add on’s that never come through. And just this week I helped report a scammer who was making contact with young people on Instagram, pretending they were someone else and threatening to reveal photos and secrets to contact lists in return for money. And if thousands of adults are getting duped online, it is little wonder our kids are too. Their ‘still developing brains’ are rarely up for the cognitive thinking that many of these scamming incidents require.

This week in Australia it is National Scams Awareness Week, a campaign run by the Scams Awareness Network. 

And here in Australia, we are certainly not immune to the scammers.

What are some of the ways scammers scam?

  • Gaining personal information, leading to fraud. This can also involve identity theft. Many a parent has been shocked at seeing their innocent Facebook photos of their little ones appear on some heinous paedophile site.
  • Buying or selling products for example those wanting to buy a puppy and being asked to pay upfront before seeing if  the animal even exists.
  • Fake Charities: These scammers prey on the emotions of others by asking you to donate to funds, reliefs or recent disasters.
  • Dating Sites: Preying on emotions these scammers use apps, websites or social media to pretend to be a romantic love interest and can spend a long time wooing their potential victim to gain trust and even love. Sending gifts, professing marriage or a better life, can leave many vulnerable to their charms. They may ask for money to help family, sick relatives, or to enable them to come and visit in person.
  • Investments: if you have money to invest, there will always be people happy to take it of your hands. Check really carefully  and do your research and triple check with reputable financial advisers.
  • Threats, extortion and sextortion: There has been plenty of cases whereby scammers threaten to reveal intimate photos or personal information and share them your contacts list unless x amount of dollars is paid up.  Others may use this form of scamming to threaten you with legal action, arrest or tax evasion.
  • Unexpected money or winnings: It is not likely that we will inherit $40 trillion from a long lost Prince uncle… or if we did, we certainly wouldn’t be hearing about it via a text or Facebook message. May of these scammers work by asking you to help them get a large sum of money out of the country in return for a slice of the pie yourself. These can also involve you being told you are entitle to a rebate or money returned from the government or some other agency.

How the scammers work

  • They gain your trust by pretending to be from reputable companies
  • They appeal to emotion or some need they may be able to address
  • They will outline their own verification processes to lull you in to believing they are secure
  • They will appeal to a sense of urgency to try and make you act quickly and thus leaving you little time to check throughly or change your mind.
  • They can make a message look real by using logos etc and even sending a message from a correct number or email address that has previously been used legitimately but has been hacked into.
  • They make a deal look too good to be true. If it seems that way, then it probably is.

Avoid getting scammed online

  • Look at how they are asking for money to be transferred. If it is transferring funds to an account, money orders or wiring money via an international funds transfer,  then be very wary.
  • Always check that email addresses are authentic. Check spelling mistakes or unusual names or extensions.
  • You should never be asked for personal information such as bank details, passwords or access to your computer so never give it over online.
  • If you are being asked for money by a charity be sure it is reputable. Ask for identification and stick to those that are well known (but also be sure they are a legitimate representative of that well known charity). All legitimate charities are registered here Australian Charities and Not-for-Profits Commission
  • Never access an account via a link sent to you from a text or email. Always go via the website and login using your username and password.
  • A site that isn’t secure will not have https:// at the beginning but only htpp://. However this is not the only thing to look out for as some scammers have managed to use https as well.
  • If a product appears to be endorsed by a celebrity, always be wary and do the appropriate checks. Read reviews and even the comments sections of advertisements to see if others are warning of a potential scam.
  • Be careful where and with whom you share photos and personal information. Never post nude or semi nude photos of your kids online no matter how cute they look in the bath. Create friends lists and keep accounts private when posting photos.
  • Talk to your kids about scamming. Discuss the reason why we need to always check if we are unsure and never hand over credit card details without checking with an adult.
  • Have discussions about the ease of impersonating people and companies online.

Scamming terms

Malware: tricks you into installing software on your computer that then enables someone access to all your files.

Ransomware: demands that you hand over payment in order to unlock your computer and regain access to your files.

Catfishing: someone pretending to be someone else online

Pshishing: attempts by scammers to trick you in to giving over personal information, private details, bank accounts etc

Remote Access Scams: people trying to convince you that you have a computer problem and need new software to fix it.

Hacking: when someone breaks into your computer using the technology to gain access to all its contents

Remember it’s not just lonely people, naive kids, the gullible or the desperate that get scammed. Every day we see everyday Australians lose thousands of dollars (over $78 million so far in 2019 and over 100,000 reports), not to mention the cost to the mental health and wellbeing of those who have been scammed.

If you would like to test your smarts against the scammers…take this Spot the Scam quiz by the Scams Awareness Network.

Think you have been scammed? Report here 

And check out this page for a list of resources to help recognise a potential scam and be alerted to any that are doing the rounds and this previous post on 10 things you can do right now for a safer online experience for your kids. 



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This Post Has One Comment

  1. Paul Watson

    A common one here at the moment is getting a phone call from someone claiming to be from Microsoft telling you that there is a problem with your windows operation systems and/or that it has been hacked.

    They lead you to your computer and ask you to enter a web address so they can access it and fix it. They don’t actually fix anything (as there was nothing to fix) and now have full access to your computer including passwords and the like. Never enter anything from these types of calls as they are a scam.

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