Some of the most common types of scams are outlined in this section. The ACCC runs the SCAMwatch website which helps you to keep up-to-date on the latest information on scams; you can also subscribe to information on email and Twitter. NSW Fair Trading has produced ‘Scam buster’, a free phone app that allows fast sharing of information about scams.
Advance fee fraud
Advance fee fraud accounts for more than half of the scams reported to the ACCC. It includes any scam where a scammer requests fees upfront or personal information in return for goods, services, money or rewards that they never supply. Scammers invent convincing and seemingly legitimate reasons for requesting payment such as to cover fees or taxes.
Lottery, sweepstakes and competition scams
These scams try to trick you into giving money upfront or providing your personal details in order to receive a prize from a lottery, sweepstake or competition that you have never entered. As well as losing any money you send, you may also be up for a hefty phone bill if you call a premium number to ‘collect your prize’. If you provide personal details, your identity could be misused too.
Dating and romance scams
The most common dating and romance scams involve scammers creating fake profiles on legitimate dating websites. Scammers seek to exploit your emotions, typically by developing a strong rapport with you before asking for money to help cover costs associated with illness, injury, travel costs or a family crisis.
‘Phishing’ emails - where they 'fish' for your personal details - are commonly used by scammers to get access to your computer. By encouraging you to click on a link or attachment they can install malicious software (‘malware’) and gain access to your computer. These emails can often appear to have come from an organisation that you know like a bank.
Be wary offline too – scammers are also known for calling homes and claiming that a computer is is experiencing technical issues. They will try to sell you fake software, or gain remote access to your computer, and thus have access to any information stored on it.
Online shopping, classifieds and auction scams
A common scam involving online buying and selling is not getting what you paid for – a scammer will sell you a product and send an inferior item or nothing at all. Or they may pretend to sell a product just to gather credit card or bank account details.
An online auction scam involves a scammer giving you a chance to buy an item outside of the auction site’s secure payment facility; if you do and your money is lost, the auction site will not be able to help you.
The online classifieds scam targets both buyers and sellers with fake ads on legitimate classifieds websites. You make the payment but may not receive the goods or be able to contact the seller. For sellers, a classified scammer will respond to your advertisement paying by cheque or money order for more than the agreed price. The ‘buyer’ will ask you to refund the 'mistaken' excess amount by money transfer. If you transfer the money before you discover that their cheque or money order is fake you lose your money, as well as the item you sold if you have already sent it.
Banking, credit cards and online account scams
Your financial details are invaluable to scammers and can be used to commit fraud anywhere in the world. A popular method is for scammer to send emails or SMS messages that appear to be from your bank or online payment service. They usually request that you verify your details on a fake but convincing copy of the bank’s website.
Card skimming is the copying of information from the magnetic strip of a credit card or ATM card - by putting an attachment or camera on an ATM or EFTPOS machine to capture your PIN. Scammers can then create copies and make charges to your account. Or they can use your credit card details to buy things online or over the phone without physically having your card.
Small business scams - including issuing a fake bill for a business directory listing, or registration for an unsolicited internet domain name.
Job and employment scams - offers of work from home or investing in a 'business opportunity' with the promose of a high salary or large investment return following an initial payment.
Charity and medical scams - collecting money for fictitious charities, miracle cures, weight loss scams involving a long-term contract or large advance payments, and fake online pharmacies offering medicines at very cheap prices.
Top 10 tips to protect yourself
- Watch out for scams – scammers can target you anytime, anywhere, anyhow.
- Don’t respond – ignore suspicious emails, letters, house visits, phones calls or SMS messages – press ‘delete’, throw them out, shut the door or just hang up.
- Don’t agree to an offer straight away – do your research and seek independent advice if it involves significant money, time or commitment, and get the offer in writing.
- Ask yourself who you’re really dealing with– scammers pose as people or organisations that you know and trust.
- Don’t let scammers push your buttons – scammers will play on your emotions to get what they want, including adopting a personal touch.
- Keep your computer secure – always update your firewall, anti-virus and anti-spyware software, and only buy from a verified source.
- Only pay online using a secure payment service – look for a URL starting with ‘https’ and a closed padlock symbol.
- Never send money to someone you don’t know and trust – it’s rare to recover money from a scammer.
- Protect your identity – your personal details are private and invaluable; keep them that way and away from scammers.
- If you’ve spotted a scam, spread the word! – tell your family and friends, and report it to SCAMwatch.