Scam activity costs Australians hundreds of millions of dollars each year, and has significant personal and emotional repercussions for victims. That is why this year, auDA has again partnered with the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s (ACCC) Scamwatch for Scams Awareness Week.
According to the ACCC, in 2021, Australians reported losses of $1.8 billion to Scamwatch, banks and other government agencies. Given one third of victims do not report scams, actual losses are predicted to have been well over $2 billion. In 2022, losses reported to Scamwatch have increased by around 100 per cent, indicating losses for Australians could be closer to $4 billion this year.
So, how do scammers infiltrate our in-built defences, how can we avoid scams when targeted and how can we help protect those around us?
Be aware that scammers exploit human instinct
Understanding how scammers and cyber-criminals target individuals by exploiting human behaviour provides an initial level of defence. Online scams exploit our most basic human instincts across four areas:
- Authority bias: we are taught from a young age not to question authority. We may be less likely to question an email from someone pretending to be our boss or a trusted organisation such as the Australian Tax Office (ATO).
- Selective perception: we look for what we think is relevant and ignore what we perceive as unimportant. An email from PayPal will be relevant if we have a PayPal account, so we’re less likely to check the send address.
- Emotion and urgency: scammers often create a sense of urgency. A message instructing us to pay money to the ATO to prevent arrest or a significant fine, may cause us to react without stopping to consider if the message is legitimate.
- Confirmation bias: our beliefs can override actual evidence to the contrary. Many of us may perceive that only vulnerable people are victims of cybercrime, therefore, rarely acknowledge our own vulnerabilities.
Avoid online scams
Modern scammers have become more advanced and harder to identify so it’s important we increase our vigilance online. Here are five precautions to help you recognise and avoid scams:
- Never share confidential information through emails or online forms: even when an email or link appears to be from an official source, verify it before providing any data to the sender. For example, if your bank sends an email containing a link asking you to login to your account, start by checking the sender’s email address. Does it appear genuine? When in doubt, verify if the email is legitimate directly with your bank.
- Use multi-factor authentication: multi-factor authentication involves using a second proof of identification to gain access to a website or application e.g. a one-time code sent to your mobile phone. With multi-factor authentication enabled, even if your account credentials are compromised, your account is less likely to be accessed by a cyber criminal.
- Keep your social media accounts secure: social media is home to many fake accounts designed to gather data. Configure your privacy settings so that your personal information remains private, do not share sensitive information about yourself and avoid accepting invitations from people you do not know personally.
- Don’t fall for the ‘too good to be true’ bargain: if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Before buying products or services online, verify if the website is genuine. Spelling errors and poor grammar can indicate a website is not legitimate, and if you can't confirm a website is genuine, it’s best to steer clear. A website URL ending in .au can help you shop more securely online – the .au domain has levels of domain abuse well below the global average thanks to a range of protections in place.
- Never assume it won’t happen to you: Never assume your data isn’t valuable and never assume you won’t be targeted. Take the time to consider your online security preparedness and how you can reduce your personal exposure.
Do your bit to protect others
If you’ve been the victim of a scam or think you’ve had contact with someone trying to scam you, report it to Scamwatch. You can also help spread scam awareness by educating your colleagues, friends and family about the dangers of online scams and what to look out for.
Scamwatch is run by the ACCC and provides information to consumers and small businesses about how to recognise, avoid and report online scams. To find out more, visit Scamwatch.gov.au.