‘Tis the season for giving… and also for taking, judging by a rise in the number of Festive Season scams noted by one of Australia’s largest credit unions, People’s Choice.
Spokesperson Stuart Symons said it was definitely the time of year to be jolly careful.
“Financial institutions invest heavily in protecting your data, but if you are tricked into handing over vital information like your date of birth, full name and tax number, it is difficult to protect your finances,” Mr Symons said.
“However, you can protect yourself by being aware of the most common scams so you can avoid them – both before Christmas and during the January shopping rush.”
‘THE TWELVE SCAMS OF CHRISTMAS’
Twelve: fake Telstra calls
“Telstra is a large Australian organisation. Like the Government, Telstra is highly unlikely to call and ask you for personal information or ask you to undertake some urgent account changes – while demanding your personal information,” Mr Symons said.
“If facing such a call or SMS, ask the caller for information that will identify them so you can contact them via Telstra’s regular customer number as advertised on their valid website. If your caller isn’t willing to provide information that will identify them, think about whether you are willing to trust them with your private information.”
Eleven: online shopping fakes
“Online ads can be very effective at this time of year when we are looking for both presents and bargains, but be very aware that clicking through a social media advertisement may not take you to a valid offer,” Mr Symons said.
“Fake sites have been established for well-known brands, using excellent prices to convince victims to transfer funds for purchases that will never be delivered.
“If you see an excellent deal on social media, don’t just click through – check the retailer’s online site separately to see whether it is a legitimate offer, and only use the retailer’s official website to purchase goods by checking the site name (URL preceded by https://) and the lock symbol to make sure it is the valid site.”
Ten: Do Not Call
“Putting your home or mobile telephone number on the Do Not Call Register is the first step to discouraging unsolicited sales calls,” Mr Symons said. “Companies that call registered numbers can be liable for daily fines of up to $220,000, or $2.2 million if the matter goes to court.”
“The system may not be foolproof – companies and scammers based overseas often show little regard for the Register – but registering at www.donotcall.gov.au can cut the number of unsolicited calls you receive.”
Nine: fake ATO calls
“Any call from the Australian Taxation Office is likely to be treated seriously, but if you’re not expecting the call because you’re not discussing your taxes with them, be very wary,” My Symons said.
“We have had reports of people being called and asked for personal and financial details so the ATO can process a tax refund, or being threatened with legal action due to a tax investigation. But the ATO will not ask for this information over the phone, so your call is likely to be someone seeking to use your information for their own benefit.
“If you still think it may be a valid call, ask for the caller’s name, position and office so you can call the ATO on their official number – check online but do not use an address provided by the caller – and get confirmation of the transaction. The ATO will generally write to you to confirm these requests; receiving a phone call should be treated with the utmost suspicion.”
Eight: investment offers
“Unsolicited telephone calls offering an outstanding investment opportunity should also be treated as suspicious,” Mr Symons said.
“You may be promised excellent financial returns that appear to outstrip anything available to you at the time, but those returns may be an early way of enticing you to invest more and more. Some of these ‘opportunities’ end up being Ponzi schemes, where investors receive returns so long as more people invest – but it all crashes when the money dries up.
“Always seek independent advice, and never agree to transfer funds on the strength of a phone call.” Take a look at our Financial Planning services to get in touch with a financial planner who can provide you with independent advice.
Seven: SMS alerts
“Text messages have been readily adopted by people seeking to take financial advantage of others.
It may be an alert to advise you of an unexpected lottery win or asking you to join a survey to win a new phone – but it will always be an unsolicited approach,” Mr Symons said.
“Never give out your personal details. It may be a marketing company, who may then sell your details on to other companies. But at the worst, it could be someone seeking personal information so they can use it to access your accounts.
“If you haven’t signed up to anything and can’t identify the caller, treat any invitation with extreme caution.”
Six: Gumtree scams
“There is a long history of people using Gumtree to trick people into transferring funds; even Gumtree itself warns users against the practice,” Mr Symonds said.
“Once a sale is agreed, you may be sent bank account details so you can transfer funds for the sale. You may even be provided with a shipping or tracking ID to prove the vendor’s bona fides. Unfortunately, the ID itself may be fake or belong to another transaction – leaving the buyer without the funds and without the agreed goods.”
Five: tech supports
“In some ways this is similar to scams involving unsolicited calls from people claiming to represent well-known companies,” Mr Symons said.
“You may receive a call advising there is a problem with your computer, leaving it at risk of being compromised or otherwise losing your files. However, the caller – who may claim to be calling with technical support – will likely offer to help, as long as you provide them with online access to your computer or otherwise download specific software.
“In short, by downloading the software or giving a stranger access to your computer, you are effectively giving them access to all of your files and, potentially, your passwords and online financial records.
“If you haven’t initiated the call or asked for the service, hang up.”
Four: fake Centrelink calls
“A call from Centrelink offering to help you claim funds you are entitled to is likely to be followed by a request for personal and banking details,” Mr Symons said.
“Centrelink does not do this – meaning your caller is likely after personal information for their own purposes.
“Ask your caller for their name, position and office location so you can call them back – but make sure you call Centrelink directly on their national number as displayed on their correct website or in a phone book. Do not call back on a number provided by your caller or via a website they provide.”
Three: wi-fi hacks
“You may receive an invitation to join a free community wi-fi network,” Mr Symons.
“This can be attractive for people seeking to cut their living costs or support a community initiative, but would you hand over all of your personal details and account transactions to a stranger?
“Any wi-fi network you use has access to all of your data flowing through it. Make sure your data is encrypted, and be wary of unsolicited offers of free access. And certainly don’t send secure financial information or passwords on a public wi-fi network.”
Two: send funds by card
“Transferring funds from your financial institution provides a link that can identify the destination of the funds, which may, in turn, point to the location and identity of any scammer,” Mr Symons said.
“Some scammers attempt to get around this by asking their victims to purchase gift cards and then provide details of that card so they can access the funds.
“Government agencies do not request the transfer of funds by gift card. Hang up, and refuse to take calls from people demanding gift cards as payments.”
“ACORN.gov.au is the Australian Government’s cybercrime reporting network. You can visit the site and record any online crime you may have experienced at the hands of scammers,” Mr Symons said.
“Even ACORN itself has been targeted, with scammers claiming to be ACORN officials sending emails requesting personal details. Look to see if the emails are sent legitimately from police.gov.au accounts or from a scammer via a gmail or other third-party provider.
“Make sure you record the reference number of any complaint you make, as this will be quoted when ACORN contacts you. Also be careful – it is another piece of information you should protect.”
Keep an eye out for our Alerts page where we provide information on what to look out for when it comes to scams.
Take a look at our Financial Planning services to get in touch with a financial planner who can provide you with independent advice
Looking at ways to save this Christmas? Read our tips for Chrismas savings here.