Aussies still getting sucked in by scammers
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Scary fiction is fun, but the worrying truth is that identity theft is a fact – and too many Australians fall victim to it. Find out how to keep the scammers and thieves at bay with these simple self-protection strategies.
Fact: Losses from cyber crime and scams reported to the ACCC totalled $63 million in 2010.
Fact: Scams reported to the ACCC more than doubled from 2009 to 2010.
Fact: 1.5 million Australians had their credit card skimmed, and 1.2 million had their bank account illegally accessed in 2009.
Fact: Scams initiated by unsolicited telephone calls increased almost 700 per cent, jumping from 2,036 reported events in 2009, to 14,144 in 2010.
Here’s a scary story. A teenage girl has taken a babysitting job and is all alone in the house with two young children. All seems normal, right? But then the phone calls start. There’s a guy on the other end, making threats – she hangs up, but he just keeps ringing back. Eventually the girl gets scared enough to call the police and they promise to find the source of the prank calls. But when they get back to her, they’ve got some terrifying news: the calls are coming from inside the house.
Okay, so this probably never actually happened, but like all urban legends, it teaches us an important lesson: you don’t always know who’s contacting you … or where they’re from or what their intentions are. You probably don’t have to worry too much about calls coming from inside your house, but as the facts show, when it comes to your personal information and your money, there really are scammers out there who are out to get you.
With National Consumer Fraud Awareness Week just behind us, now’s a great time to look at how to protect yourself from identity theft – but more importantly, you need to start taking action! Last year Veda Advantage revealed that 70 per cent of us have yet to put basic protective measures in place to guard against identity crime, and as scary as the ACCC numbers are, the true story of identity theft, fraud and consumer scams is probably a lot scarier – it’s likely that there are many people out there who don’t want to admit they’ve been fooled, and the ACCC is just one of several agencies who receives reports about cyber crimes and scams. Who knows how many more victims there are out there?
So how can you protect yourself from cyber crime and stop your name being added to the list of victims? These basic steps are a great place to start:
Monitor and protect
Monitor your accounts and take action quickly if you see any suspicious activity, even if it seems minor. You’re also entitled to see your credit reference file – you can check it for free if you have it posted to you, or you can access it online for a small fee – so get hold of it and check it thoroughly for errors. Credit report agency Veda Advantage also offers an alert service that will allow you to keep track of any changes to your file as they happen, which will allow you to challenge anything that seems wrong straightaway, and the fee is a small price to pay to know whether someone’s stolen enough of your identity to pretend they’re you and apply for credit in your name.
Know who you’re talking to
Don’t provide personal details over the phone unless you were the one who initiated the call. If you receive an unsolicited call from a company you do business with, request the caller’s details and call the organisation back, but not using the phone number they give you – you could just be calling a scammer back. And don’t follow links you receive in emails, even if you recognise the sender. Some ‘phishing’ scams can be quite sophisticated, so if you receive a warning or special offer, always go directly to the company’s website to verify it. One of our staff received an email like this just the other day – the ‘sender’ was boasting about the great deal they’d gotten on a new iPhone, and all she’d need to do to get the same deal was follow the link. What the scammer didn’t know was that the email address they’d stolen to send the emails from belonged to a child who would never have sent an email like that. Our staffer got away from this scam unscathed, as did the kid whose email had been hijacked, but it just goes to show how easy it could be to get taken in – who knows what that link could have unleashed on her computer if she’d been tempted to click through?
Do you have a story about being scammed? Share it on our forum and help prevent other YFYM members from being caught out!
Personal information is the key to identity theft and one of the biggest weapons scammers have: it helps them to access everything they need to take you for a ride. Don’t post personal information on online networking sites, and if you already have, at least ensure that you’re using the maximum privacy settings that the site offers. If companies, both online and off, ask you to provide any personal information when making a purchase always make sure you ask why they want it. There are some circumstances, such as when you’re opening a bank account, where you’re legally required to part with your info, but often companies just want to build a customer database. And the more of your personal details that are out there, the more at risk you are.
You really can’t always know who’s calling … or emailing … or lurking … but if you keep an eye on your money, a tight grip on your personal information, and report any identity theft as soon as you know it’s happened, you’ll be able to limit both the risk of getting caught out and the damage criminals can cause.
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Tags: identity theft fraud, credit report agency, money management
Wilson Luna is an author, wealth adviser and founder of Your Family Your Money. Your Family Your Money’s goal is to simplify traditionally complex financial strategies, demystify financial jargon and debunk common financial myths, becoming every family’s first stop for financial advice, information and inspiration.
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