According to Scamwatch, Australians lost more than $142 million to scammers in 2019*. That's up 33% on 2018, and over a third of that amount was lost by people aged 55 and above. And these are just the reported figures.
Scammers use all types of sneaky tactics to trick you into parting with your money, but knowing what to look out for can help you to spot the signs. In this guide we’ll look at the more common scams targeting older Australians such as tech support scams and romance (but not as you know it) scams.
You receive a call from a person telling you they work at a well-known business or organisation. They tell you there’s an issue with your computer. They say they can see that someone has tried to hack into it, several times.
What should you do? Hang up! And here’s the one simple reason why:
Large organisations will not get in touch with you to tell you there’s an issue with your computer or internet connection. They expect you to call them when there’s a problem.
Different tactics, same scam
The common goal is to trick you into paying for "support" or unnecessary software. There are several variations of the ‘story’. The caller may tell you:
There’s an issue with your internet access.
Your computer has been sending error messages, or it has a virus.
There’s a problem with your computer or phone line and it’s affecting your computer’s performance.
You need to pay a fee to upgrade your computer’s operating system because the license has expired.
Remember: they cannot tell whether there are any issues with your computer or internet connection. The only information they have in front of them is your phone number.
Don’t be afraid to hang up.
In fact, it’s highly encouraged. If you’d like to keep things polite, you can say something like, “Thank you for the call, I’m hanging up now.” And hang up. Remember, no matter how convincing or official they sound:
Never give remote access to your computer or provide your login details to somebody who has called you unexpectedly.
Never provide your credit card or banking details to somebody who has called you trying to sell you something.
Too late, I gave them access to my computer
Let’s say you find yourself following the caller’s instructions and you are midway through sharing your screen when you start to have doubts about them. What can you do?
Turn off your computer right away and hang up. This should temporarily disrupt the scammer’s access to your computer. Seek advice from a reputable computer technician before you start up your computer again.
If you paid for software or tech support, call your bank right away to see whether the charges can be reversed.
Report the offence - more on that below.
2. Do Not Call Register scam
For those not familiar with the
Do Not Call Register, it’s a free service provided by the Government that lets you register your home, mobile or fax number to opt out of receiving most telemarketing calls. You may still receive some calls from organisations you already have an existing relationship with, and those exempt from the register like registered charities, pollsters, government bodies, social researchers and educational organisations.
Scammers are trying to trick people into paying a fee for a ‘one-off’ lifetime membership to register their number, or upgrade to the ‘international’ version. These options do not exist - the Do No Call Register is FREE.
As a general rule
Never hand out your personal or banking details to callers, no matter how official they sound.
Don’t be pressured into making any decisions. You are well within your rights to stop the conversation at any time.
Listen to your gut. If something doesn’t sound right, hang up.
Ways to help reduce telemarketing calls
Consider changing your phone number to a private number. Most telco providers offer the service free of charge.
Consider buying Telstra’s Call Guardian. It’s a home phone designed to stop unwanted calls. The caller has to announce themselves in a recorded message so you get to hear who it is before you accept or reject the call.
When an organisation calls you, ask for your name to be removed from the call list.
Be careful about who you give your phone number to. For example, if you fill in competition entries or join store mailing lists your contact details may be shared with telemarketers.
3. Romance scams
Fact: Scammers target people through social media and apply the same tactics as the dating and romance scams to trick new ‘friends’ into giving them money.
Often they ‘meet’ you through online gaming apps you can play on your phone. These include games like ‘Words with Friends’, which is a multi-player game very similar to Scrabble, ‘Chess with Friends’, or ‘Boggle’. Whatever the game, the end goal remains the same: to build a strong enough bond (and it doesn’t have to be romantic) before they eventually ask you for money.
The tell-tale signs
They pose as lonely widowed men or women.
They ask a lot of questions and try to get personal information out of you.
They try to get you to leave the gaming app and switch to another form of communication, like email or another app that allows you to ‘chat’ online.
What can you do?
Keep going with the online games, they are a great way to exercise your mind. Just don’t give too much away about yourself when chatting to online friends who you don’t know in real life.
You should be very careful if a new friend as soon as your new friend asks you for a favour. Don’t send them any money, no matter what the story.
Where to go for help
Don’t be afraid or embarrassed to reach out and ask for help. There’s always somebody to speak to.
If you don’t feel comfortable reaching out to a family member or friend, there are a number of agencies that can provide support and advice to help you through the mess a scammer has caused.
iDCare counsellors for free advice on how best to respond to online security concerns. However, if you would prefer to diagnose or treat the problem yourself, you can try their helpful
Cyber First Aid Kit.
Take a look at the
Where to get help page on the Scamwatch website for the best agencies to contact. And call your bank immediately if you’ve lost money to a scammer - it may be able to help you reverse payments or stop any future payments.
Quiz: can you spot a scam
Scams are tricky and some are more obvious than others. But the more you know, the more prepared you are for spotting a scammer when you see one.