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Losses from reported Australian hacking victims quadrupled in 2016: ACCC

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The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has reported a four-fold increase in hacking scams, with AU$2.9 million lost to such activity in 2016, up from AU$700,000 in 2015.

According to Targeting scams: Report of the ACCC on scams activity 2016, businesses bore the brunt of these scams, with over half — AU$1.7 million — being attributed to businesses.

“While the digital economy presents many opportunities and efficiencies for businesses, it also presents significant risks,” ACCC deputy chair Delia Rickard says in the report’s foreword.

“Scams targeting businesses are becoming increasingly sophisticated using modern technology to make fake emails, invoices and websites appear legitimate to even the astute business person.”

While the digital age is hitting businesses in Australia, the report [PDF] highlights that consumers are also being affected by scammers, with digitisation providing the opportunity for scammers to try new tricks.

Online scams — those executed via the internet, email, social networks, and mobile apps — outnumbered phone-based scams in 2016, with an increase of 130 percent over 2015.

Elsewhere in the report, losses to online scams accounted for 58 percent — AU$48.4 million — of total losses, while social media was a particularly busy platform used by scammers to lure victims, netting losses of AU$9.5 million in 2016 compared with AU$3.8 million in 2015.

Of the social media scams, the most prevalent were related to online dating and sextortion, a form of blackmail in which compromising images of the victim are used to extort money.

Expert tip: The real tax office never asks you to pay with iTunes gift cards

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You know you’re being scammed when an aggressive caller, supposedly from the ATO, demands you settle a tax debt using pre-paid iTunes or Visa cards.

There was a time when scammers tried to con you with promises which seem too good to be true, such as inheriting money from a long-lost uncle. These days they try to trick you with scams which seem too boring to be fake or too scary to ignore.

Watch out for telephone scammers demanding you pay your tax bill using gift cards image www.scamsfakes.com

Watch out for telephone scammers demanding you pay your tax bill using gift cards.  

Threatening phone calls from the taxman are enough to grab most people’s attention, but as soon as the caller gets aggressive and starts demanding payment on the spot you know something is wrong. Especially if they expect you to pay using pre-paid gift cards.

I would have thought asking for iTunes cards would be a huge red flag for anyone who received a call claiming to be from the tax office, but apparently some Australians fall for this – spending thousands of dollars on gift cards and then sending the scammers the redemption codes. More than 300 people have reported lost more than $1 million in total to tax scams in the first half of this year, including $174,830 spent on iTunes cards.

It’s easy to laugh at these people but scammers are practiced at the art of manipulating confused and frightened  people. Sometimes the caller seems to know a lot about you, which helps them sound more genuine. They can also be very intimidating and aggressive, such as insisting that if you don’t pay you’ll go to jail and the police are already on their way to your house. You can see how this might frighten elderly people, especially if English isn’t their first language.

Even if you’d never fall for these scams, it’s important to word up your less tech-savvy friends and relatives who might not view such calls with a healthy skepticism. The golden rule is “trust no-one” when you answer the phone, especially when the caller starts asking you to prove who you are or demanding payment.

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Henry Sapiecha