It might be the season of goodwill, but it’s also the peak time for scammers to take advantage of innocent and vulnerable people.
Last year in Australia, nearly $490 million was lost to fraudulent activity – and that includes $60 million in romance scams alone.
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The Australian Tax Office reported a spike between November and January, as fraudsters ramped up their tactics around Christmas.
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“During Christmas time, we’ve got more time, we’re doing shopping, and we’re in a rush to pay bills,” said consumer affairs commentator Jo Ucukalo.
“We’re home more so we’re taking phone calls, and that’s why at Christmas time we see more scammers.”
Spike in ATO scams
The ATO has issued a warning about scammers pretending to be from the Tax Office, and last year, there was a notable spike in this activity around Christmas.
“People are being contacted by email or text saying that they’ve got a debt,” Ucukalo said.
“Once they’ve got the buy-in from the person to think that they’ve got a legitimate debt, then they’ll send through details that request you to activate cardless withdrawals on your bank account – which means you can hand over a code and they can get money from your bank account.
“It means anybody is vulnerable if you can basically share a couple of digits with the scammers.
“When it’s a big company, always think, why is this company contacting me? And if you’re unsure, contact that company directly – don’t click on links or follow instructions, contact them directly and discuss the matter.”
There have been 3,640 romance scams reported this year already, and with the holiday season upon us, plenty of people will be thinking of signing up to online dating.
“It’s really easy for people to impersonate someone and to groom their victims,” Ucukalo said.
“Just be mindful of who you’re speaking with online. You might get a request to just start a conversation.
“Scammers will target everyone – and those who respond and engage, they’ll narrow in and put their attention there.”
Australians have already lost more money to online shopping scams in 2019 than in the entire previous year.
So far, reported losses from online shopping scams are over $4 million, well in excess of the 2018 total figure of $3.28 million.
“We’re all looking to buy, so make sure you’re buying from a reputable website,” Ucukalo said.
“It’s important to slow down when you’re about to buy something. If the deal seems too good to be true, it probably is. If it’s an expensive item sold at a discount, ask questions. Fake tickets are trapping a lot of people.
“Credit cards offer better protection in case you don’t get the goods – so you can contact your credit card provider and try to get your money back.”
Tips to stay safe
“Make sure you know who you’re talking to, whether it’s an agency or someone contacting you through social media,” Ucukalo said.
“If you do receive messages and they don’t seem to be legitimate, just ignore them.
“Keep your trusted network close – talk to them about your romances or any investments you’re looking at.
“The government tries to keep track of what scams are out there – so sign up for updates on Scamwatch.”