Information on this topic also available for:
A scam is designed to trick you into giving away your money or your personal details. Scams succeed because they look like the real thing and appeal to your needs and desires.
The people who run these scams (scammers) are imaginative and manipulative; they know how to push the right buttons to produce the response they want.
Many scams originate from outside Australia and once money is sent overseas it is virtually impossible to recover.
Most scams are operated by criminal organisations, who seek to get your money and your personal details so that they can steal your identity.
Everyone will be the target of a scam at some stage in their lives. Scams come in many forms and reach you in many ways – by mail, online through e-mail, telephone and door-to-door.
While anybody can be the targeted by a scammer, the more effective scams deliberately target the most vulnerable in our community – the frail, aged, young and gullible.
Other scammers deliberately target you when you are likely to be busy or tired – such as evening telephone calls or door-knocking you on a weekend.
Busting the following common myths will help reduce your chances of being scammed.
Myth: All Internet sites are real and legitimate.
Fact: Fake websites can easily be set up to look like the real thing.
Myth: If they use an Australian phone number, website or email address, then it can’t be a scam.
Fact: Scammers deliberately set up Australian telephone numbers, websites and email addresses to use as front to channel money overseas.
Myth: There are shortcuts to wealth that only a few people know.
Fact: They wouldn't be telling their secrets to you.
Myth: Scams only involve large amounts of money.
Fact: Some scammers target large numbers of people for small amounts of money. It all adds up to a lot if they succeed.
Myth: Scams are always about money.
Fact: Some scams try to steal your personal information to sell or get more than just your money.
Myth: Governments vet all companies and businesses, therefore any offers you receive are from legitimate organisation.
Fact: Scammers are criminals. They act illegally and can contact you from anywhere in the world.
Myth: The ‘Do Not Call’ Register stops scammers contacting you by telephone.
Fact: Only legitimate businesses observe the Do Not Call Register. Scammers are criminals who will call you even if you are registered on the Do Not Call Register.
Myth: Abusing scammers discourages them from contacting you again.
Fact: Scammers sell your personal details to other scammers. Abusing a scammer only confirms that you are prepared to interact with them.
Scammers will try a number of ways to get your money or personal information, these include:
Computer virus scams (the Microsoft scam) – these scams ring you to ask you to turn on your computer and give you certain information, so that the scammer can take control of your computer and get your banking details.
Government/bank refund scams – these scammers say they are from a government body or a bank and that you are owed money, usually a refund of over-charged fees or taxes. You will be asked to pay a fee and supply your banking/personal details, but the refund money will never be deposited in your account and the scammer has your details.
Banking, credit card and online account scams – these scams aim to get you to hand over your banking and personal information by sending you emails, often saying they are from your bank, asking you to verify your account details, including your password. For tips on protecting your financial information and avoiding banking scams, visit the Australian Bankers' Association website.
Unwanted services – these scams will usually send you an email or a message on your mobile phone offering you a service. When you reply you may purchase a service that you don’t want or can’t stop. A common example of this scam is the mobile phone ring tone scam, which can also lead to you unknowingly agreeing to further unwanted ring tones.
Online gambling – these scams usually involve betting on horses, but could include other forms of gambling, through a computerised system. Some people have paid up to $20,000 for the system only to find it didn’t work and they had lost their money.
Health and medical scams - these scams offer products or services that will cure your health problems or offer a simple treatment. These cures and treatments do not work.
Dating scams – there are many legitimate online introduction agencies and dating websites. However just as many websites are scams, promising contact with people who don’t exist or who only want you to send money to them.
Lotteries, sweepstakes and competitions – these scams will tell you that you have won a competition or lottery and will try to trick you into handing over your banking and personal details in order to claim the prize. Remember, if you haven’t entered, you can not win.
Pyramid scams – these types of scams rely on the recruitment of members. Members will pay a fee to join, with the membership fees paid to another member who will be paid out of the scheme. Once people stop joining, members stop getting paid out and if you are caught in the pyramid you will lose your money.
Golden investment opportunities – usually these scams will offer you investment opportunities based on secret inside knowledge they have, all you have to do is provide banking and personal details to sign up. You could also be offered early access to your super or promised large tax deductions or refunds.
Read all about the current scams affecting Australians at SCAMwatch.
Following these ten golden rules reduces the chance of you being scammed:
If you believe you have been scammed, you need to do five things immediately.
If you have been the victim of a cybercrime such as hacking, an online scam or fraud, identity theft, or an attack on your computer system, go to the Australian Cybercrime Online Reporting Network (ACORN) website www.acorn.gov.au and report it. This will ensure that the report goes to the right law enforcement or government agency for consideration.
If the scam originates from NSW or you know the name of the business or trader and they are located in NSW, you can report the scam to NSW Fair Trading online through Lodge a complaint, by calling 13 32 20 or in person at a Service NSW Centre. For your nearest centre, please check the Service NSW Centre Locator.
If the scam originates from outside NSW or overseas you can report it via SCAMwatch. SCAMwatch is a website run by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) and provides information to consumers and small businesses about how to recognise, avoid and report scams. For more information, visit www.scamwatch.com.au.
Get a free copy of Adobe Acrobat Reader so you can access PDF versions of our information.