Crikey, I’m getting bombarded by email scams. This week I had very good fake emails from Australia Post, a major bank I don't bank with, and a pretty dodgy one where the perpetrators can't spell, but who want me to pay a fine from the Australian Federal Police. And I am clearly not alone!
Over the last year 105,000 Australians have fallen victim to financial scams, collectively losing $85 million to fraudsters – an average of $26,408 per person. This represents a 15% rise in the incidence of scams over the previous year. But these figures are believed to be the tip of the iceberg because many people are too embarrassed to report being stung by fraudsters.
Sadly, Australians aged over 55 who may be looking for ramped up returns ahead of, or during, retirement are most likely to fall prey to scams. Two-fifths (40%) of scam victims are aged 55-plus.
It can be easy to blame the internet for the growth of scams. However a recent report by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) found two out of five scam victims were contacted by fraudsters over the phone. This compares to 27% by email and 11% via the internet and social media.
In fact, over the last year one of the main types of scams reported to our investment watchdog ASIC, involved overseas cold calls about bogus investment opportunities.
You may think you’d easily recognise a scam. But make no mistake, today’s fraudsters employ sophisticated techniques that include call scripts, false paperwork and fake websites to convince their victims of a genuine opportunity.
The bottom line is that none of us are immune, so it pays to know the warning signs.
Typically, investment and financial scams promise high, quick returns and even tax-free benefits. Expect offers of big rewards for a small upfront payment coupled with discounts for early bird investors that create a sense of urgency.
Adding to the credibility of the scam, you may be given phone numbers for referees. Disregard these. The so-called referees are likely to be part of the scam network.
ASIC is warning Australians not to send money overseas for an investment offer that has come out of the blue. If you are cold called about an investment the best thing to do is hang up.
If you’re not sure about the legitimacy of the person or company making the call, ask if the company or scheme has an Australian Financial Services Licence (ASFL) or an Australian Credit Licence (ACL). In particular, ask what the licence number is. You can check this against the Professional Registers on ASIC’s website.
Scams are ever-evolving and it pays to stay up to date by regularly checking the government’s Scamwatch website. If you think you’ve been scammed, contact your financial institution immediately.
Paul Clitheroe is a founding director of financial planning firm ipac, Chairman of the Australian Government Financial Literacy Board and chief commentator for Money Magazine.
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More than 772,000 people in Australia have been the victims of identity theft over the past 12 months.