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Aussie brothers tackle $2.1m bill scam issue after father swindled

When Shendon and Simon Ewans’ retired father clicked a link on a fraudulent bill that was emailed to him, and then became infected with malware that cleared out his bank account to the tune of $8300, his sons knew there had to be a way to prevent it from happening in the future.

“Eventually I recovered the money and I reclaimed my bank account and phone number,” says their father Stephen, 69, whose mobile was also hijacked in the process.

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“[But] it took almost six weeks. The stress, anxiety and inconvenience was terrible.”

Having already built a platform to ensure people paid bills on time in order to avoid late fees and secure on-time payment discounts, the two siblings put their heads together to devise a plan to conquer the problem their father had fallen victim to.

A former advisor in innovation and commercialisation for the University of Melbourne and National ICT Australia (now CSIRO Data61), Shendon — along with his brother Simon and co-founder Quentin Marsh — have just recently put the finishing touches on their start-up, Gobbill.

Their system lets customers forward all of their bills to the service, which then checks for fraudulent and suspicious bills and ensures that payments are made on time. Due diligence checks are done in this process before any funds are transferred to target organisations. The purpose of such checks — which weed out “spoofed”, or faked, email addresses and corroborate the identity behind billing details, among other steps — is to protect customers from paying fake bills or invoices.

According to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, there were 9294 reports of email billing fraud reported to the agency in 2017. Email billing fraud accounted for $2.1 million in reported losses.

Meanwhile, snail mail fraud accounted for $207,000 in reported losses and 865 reports.

‘Chronically under-reported’

But ACCC deputy chair Michael Schaper suspects the figures are just the tip of the iceberg.

“It is widely expected that billing fraud is probably chronically under-reported,” Dr Schaper says, referring to consumers who don’t have the time to fill out scamwatch.gov.au fraud reports, are too embarrassed to do so, or are small business owners who are afraid that reporting a scam might affect their liability insurance premiums.

“How much under-reporting [is occurring] we don’t know,” Dr Schaper says, adding that many consumers and small businesses don’t know whether they’ve been scammed as they don’t cross-check their credit card or bank statements.

“A good scam is one where six months later you’re not sure if you got that stationary you paid for or not,” he says. “The perfect crime is one that nobody knows that they have fallen victim to.”

Preying on vulnerable Australians, especially the elderly, scammers have in recent years been posing as billers from well-known companies such as Telstra, Origin Energy, AGL and others.

One of the most sophisticated was an ANZ-branded email notifying customers their statement was ready to access. When the ‘View statement’ button was clicked, it launched the download of data-stealing malware onto the victim’s system, allowing data and funds to be pilfered.

According to Shendon Ewan, 5 in 100 emails analysed by Gobbill are detected as fraudulent.

When Gobill first started in 2015, it was 1 in 100.

“The detection rate is growing steadily,” he says, as crooks capitalise on the trend of paperless billing.

“The scams are becoming more prevalent”

Mr Ewan says that originally Gobbill was only designed to help people pay bills on time.

“Then my father got done by the scam,” he says, “and it shifted our focus to think about the fraud aspect.”

Gobbill is free for consumers, while small businesses are charged a fee.

For tips on how to avoid scams, visit ScamWatch.

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Henry Sapiecha

 

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