Beware scam emails

The internet has changed our lives in many positive ways but it has also made it easy for crims to get at us easily via scam emails.

Scams are a global problem, and many dodgy schemes originate from overseas. This makes it difficult for crime authorities to take action against the perpetrators, so commonsense is one of your best lines of defence.

In 2009, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission received complaints from around 20,000 scam victims whose losses collectively totaled almost $70 million.

This figure is believed to be the tip of the iceberg. Many scams go unreported because people are too embarrassed to admit they’ve been ripped off.

Scams that rely on emails to make contact with their victims account for around 10 per cent of all fraud. And they often have a common thread – promising you a really easy way to make money. It may be a lottery win or an unexpected inheritance (bequeathed by someone you’ve never heard of). All you have to do is provide details of your bank account to receive the cash.

A work colleague recently received a wave of what were obviously scam emails. One started out by declaring “We are happy to announce that you have been rewarded with 12,500USD!” Another email was from a bogus lottery group announcing a similar big win. This person googled the unfamiliar web address and it turns out the email originated from an organised crime group well known to British authorities.

The only people who make a fortune from email scams are the crooks behind them. If you respond by supplying personal financial details like a credit card or bank account number, you’re giving the crims an open door to your money.

Scams involving the internet are constantly changing but there are plenty of ways to stay informed about what to look out for.

The consumer website of the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (www.fido.gov.au) has a wealth of information on scams.

Or, you can subscribe to receive email alerts from the federal government’s SCAMwatch website (www.scamwatch.gov.au). These will keep you up to date on the latest schemes and how to recognise them.

In fact, SCAMwatch is currently warning about fake emails claiming to collect donations for victims of the Queensland flood.

If you have been the victim of a scam or you have encountered any type of scam ranging from letters and emails to direct phone calls, your experience could help others. The Australian Consumer Fraud Taskforce is conducting its annual fraud survey. You can complete it online following the link on www.fido.gov.au– you won’t be asked to provide personal details.

In the meantime, if you receive a dodgy email with an offer that sounds too good to be true, simply press the delete key. Whatever you do, don’t follow any links and never supply private details regarding yourself or your money.

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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