Scams impersonating the Australian government have exploded in 2020, swindling unsuspecting victims out of more than $1.2 million in just six months.
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has registered more than 7,100 reports to its Scamwatch line this year, with the number of victims anticipated to rise during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The biggest increase has come from scams who claim to be from myGov and act as a portal for allowing Australians early access to their superannuation.
Others pretend to be from the tax office, and often request small amounts of money to be paid in the hopes that the victim will pay without a second thought.
ACCC Chair Delia Rickard said scammers are preying on the financial vulnerability felt by many due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“Scammers are increasingly taking advantage of the financial difficulties and uncertainty generated from the COVID-19 pandemic to trick unsuspecting Australians,” Ms Rickard said.
“We are seeing two main types of scams impersonating government departments; fake government threats and phishing scams.
“Both of these scams can be quite convincing and can lead to significant financial losses or even identity theft.”
A more frightening scam involves victims receiving a fake “robocall” from a government department which claims the receiver has committed an illegal act such as tax fraud or money laundering.
The victim is then instructed to dial “1” to rectify the crime, which leads to the scammer directly attempting to scare the victim in paying non-existent bills with the threat of arrest.
“Don’t be pressured by a threatening caller and take your time to consider who you might be dealing with,” Ms Rickard said.
“Government departments will never threaten you with immediate arrest or ask for payment by unusual methods such as gift cards, iTunes vouches or bank transfers.”
From January 1 to July 5, Scamwatch was informed that Australians lost a collective $905,000 to tax scams, $176,000 to Australian Federal Police impersonation scams and more than $8700 to scams impersonating the Department of Health.
These figures are only losses that have been reported to Scamwatch, with the number of victims and financial losses likely to be far greater in reality.
Ms Rickard urged Australians who believe they are being scammed to contact the relevant government agency directly and confirm communications.
“Don’t click on any hyperlinks in texts or emails to reach a government website, always type the address into the browser yourself,” Ms Rickard said.
“Do not respond to texts or emails as the scammer will escalate their attempts to get your money.
“If you’re not sure whether a call is legitimate, hang up and call the relevant organisation directly by finding the details though an independent search.”
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