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Experts urge consumers to stay wary on social media

Government and consumer groups are using this years National Consumer Fraud Week, #Fraudweek2017, to spread awareness about how to stay safe from scams.

As one of the fastest growing online user group older Australians are often particularly attractive targets for scammers (Source: Shutterstock)
As one of the fastest growing online user group older Australians are often particularly attractive targets for scammers (Source: Shutterstock)

Run by the Australasian Consumer Fraud Taskforce, National Consumer Fraud Week (15th to 19th May), is an education and awareness campaign focussing this year on online and social media scams.

The prevailing advice? Be wary. If in doubt, don’t.

As one of the fastest growing online user group, with access to life savings and substantial assets, older Australians are often particularly attractive targets for scammers.

Last week police issued a warning about a phone scam in which victims are asked “can you hear me?” in order to use a potential “yes” response to access personal accounts using voice recognition software, and another this week involving people impersonating the Australian Taxation Office and demanding gift cards and vouchers to repay debt.

Police have warned that these latest scammers are especially targeting the older age group, estimating that people over 55 have lost $1 million to this scam since January, with reports increasing between January and April.

The ATO has warned that phone and email scams can often look and sound very convincing, so being wary is important. They recommend visiting their website for approved payment methods if you are suspicious, and never opening an attachment from an unsolicited email.

"If you click on links or open attachments in these emails, it may install software that gives scammers access to your computer and potentially your personal information," says Assistant Commissioner Graham Whyte.

Social networking scams are the latest fast-growing cons, with government Scamwatch statistics showing that they were 79 percent more prevalent in 2016 than the previous year, generating $9.5 million dollars of losses for Australian consumers.

The highest losses came from dating and romance scams at $7.5 million in total, but fake trader scams and other buying and selling scams also generated high losses.

“We have witnessed a sharp increase in scams taking place through social
media sites. It can be really hard to tell who’s genuine and who’s fake
these days,” says Australian Competition and Consumer Commission's (ACCC) Deputy Chair Delia Rickard.

“If someone you’ve met through social media but you’ve never met in
person asks you for money, your alarm bells should be ringing. Don’t
ever wire transfer or send money to someone you don’t know because you
won’t see it again,” she adds.

Australians aged over 55 accounted for 45 percent of reports to Scamwatch with the total amount of losses to scam disruption programs reported to reach almost $300 million.

Maria lost thousands of dollars in a romance scam. Watch her story. (Video source: Consumer Affairs Victoria)

Australians aged over 55 lost the most per scam last year, almost $18 thousand on average, and women accounted for 6.2 percent of the total $9.5 million in losses.

COTA Australia are warning older Australians to be careful about the information they share online and to check their privacy settings carefully. 

“[While] online forums, messaging, and social media sites are great for socialising with friends and family, unfortunately, there are also people who use social media to steal personal information and identities, or to embarrass, harass or attack others.”

Some steps you can take to protect yourself are:

  • Do not accept social media invitations from people you don’t know well, and adjust your privacy settings so your personal information isn’t public.   
  • Don’t drop your guard when a friend sends you a message! Their social media account or email may have been hacked. 
  • Hover over links in emails and social media first to see where they lead, and never click on anything that looks suspicious.
  • Use strong, unique passwords for all your accounts. Remember, while one password for everything is easy to remember, it makes your accounts much easier to hack.
  • If you receive a suspicious, unsolicited phone call, call the provider back yourself from a number listed online or in a phone book to check it’s authenticity, and never give personal details if you are unsure.
  • Head to staysmartonline.gov.au for more tips on spotting scams.

If you suspect that you have been the victim of a scam, monitor your accounts closely and report the scam to the police as soon as possible.

Victoria’s fair-trading regulator, Consumer Affairs Victoria, has also offered this advice to consumers- “if in doubt, don’t.”

Starting next week the regulator will run an educational campaign for over 60s on how to spot a scam, and encourage consumers to take their scams quiz to test their online savvy. 

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