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Warnings of online scams targeting older Australians

With scams already costing Australians over $14 million so far in 2019, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) is again warning older Australians to be vigilant with their digital safety.

Research shows Australians over 65 are the most vulnerable to scams and cybercrime [Source: Shutterstock]
Research shows Australians over 65 are the most vulnerable to scams and cybercrime [Source: Shutterstock]

Johanna Miscichowski from the Government’s Office of the eSafety Commissioner says research shows Australians over 65 are the most vulnerable to scams and cybercrime.

“An overall lack of experience with technology and low digital literacy rates can mean older Australians are less equipped to interpret jargon and may be too trusting when handing over personal information,” Ms Miscichowski says.

“Given the ever-present nature of technology, and the fact that there are more seniors getting online each year, we do expect the number of those being targeted to increase.”

Unusual web or email addresses, ‘too good to be true’ offers or someone demanding bank information can be signs an email or call is a scam, Ms Miscichowski says.  

“Fake emails are a common method of stealing personal information, as are unexpected phone calls and voicemail messages. The calls may demand immediate action such as making a payment, having bank accounts closed or paying taxation debts,” she says.

“Some may even threaten police action. In these scenarios it is best to slow down, take control and analyse the situation before taking action. It is also okay to simply hang up the phone or not respond to a message that does not seem legitimate.”

According to Government website Scamwatch, Australians lost over $107 million to scams in 2018, with investment scams topping the losses at nearly $40 million.

Common scams targeting older Australians include dating, investment, door-to-door and rebate scams.

Ms Miscichowski says a good rule of thumb is to never trust any email or phone call requesting personal details, including email communication that asks you to enter usernames and passwords.

“Reputable institutions like banks, energy companies, telcos, internet providers and government agencies, would never request sensitive information this way. When in doubt, we recommend contacting the organisation personally to see whether the communication was legitimate.”

Ms Miscichowski says the Government’s Be Connected initiative aims to help people get online and use digital devices safely.    

Educational content includes information about protecting personal information, using security settings on devices, identifying scams, conducting secure online transactions and connecting with others through social media safely.

“Those who have been reluctant to engage with technology because of security concerns can now do so in supported learning environments, building skills and confidence so they can enjoy all the benefits the internet can offer,” she says.

“Through Be Connected the eSafety Office is working to empower older Australians with digital skills and confidence so they know how to handle these risks when they arise.

“If someone believes they have been scammed or their personal information has been compromised, they should contact their bank immediately to stop all future payments, and report scams and any fraudulent activity to the relevant authorities.”

Scamwatch tips for protecting yourself against scams:

  • Don't be pressured into making a decision

  • Be suspicious of requests for money – even if they sound or look official

  • Verify the identity of the contact by calling the relevant organisation directly

  • Don’t respond to phone calls or emails offering financial advice or opportunities, just hang up

  • Always do your own research before you invest money

  • Be wary of people you meet on social media or online dating sites who after just a few contacts profess strong feelings for you and try to move you away from the site and communicate via chat or email

  • Be suspicious of unexpected emails or letters advising you how to claim an inheritance or competition prize.

Anyone concerned about scams can make a report to the ACCC and find out about common scams at scamwatch.gov.au

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