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HomeNewsBattle-hardened seniors take on scammers

Battle-hardened seniors take on scammers

Northern Beaches seniors are getting battle ready as the online onslaught of scams – many targeting older residents – intensifies in the lead up to Christmas.

One such local, a 77 year old Manly pensioner, has joined the ranks of upskillers at local volunteer organisation Manly Computer Pals, after recently falling victim to a Crypto scam.

The organisation primarily provides one-on-one tutoring to help seniors gain digital skills across all devices and platforms.

However its Vice President, David Matthews, said the high prevalence of scams has seen the need to add scam-identifying and education into their services, particularly during the federal Scams Awareness Week (27 November to 1 December).

“Scams… are causing anxiety and fear in the community, particularly among seniors. We know of several who have been impacted and believe it’s important to alert everyone,” he said.

A tutorial underway at Manly Computer Pals.

One of those David refers to is ‘Jenny’ (not her real name). Jenny was looking to supplement her income with a possible investment in Cryptocurrency (crypto). Jenny wanted to find out more about this possible opportunity and so carried out some online research. Soon after, a man contacted her and offered to teach her more about crypto and to help her with any investment she may then wish to make. He asked if she had $10,000 to invest and when Jenny replied she was looking at closer to $2,000, the man gave a condescending laugh.

However, after what Jenny described as “a phone relationship, lasting some six weeks”, the man asked for access to her computer screen so he could show her how crypto works. “It was kind of like a Zoom tutorial”, said Jenny.

Jenny put her trust in the man and followed his instructions to open an app that would grant him screen access, not realising that in doing so, she was giving the scammer access to her entire computer and its contents – including the details of her two St George bank accounts and her P.I.N.

Soon after she was at her local bank branch, transferring funds from one account to the other. Within minutes of her leaving the bank, Jenny got a call from St George to let her know they’d detected suspicious activity on one of her accounts. Someone was using her P.I.N. to withdraw funds from somewhere in the western suburbs. The bank realised this could not have been Jenny, as she’d only just been seen in-branch.

St George immediately froze Jenny’s accounts, preventing the fraudster from taking any more than $435. The bank also refunded her money. “The watchdogs at St. George were fantastic,” said Jenny. “They were onto the scam immediately and really looked after me. But it scared the wits out of me to know that I’d given this criminal access to my computer.

“It scared the wits out of me to know that I’d given this criminal access to my computer.”

“When he’d asked for access to my screen, he said I needed to open an app so we could share screens… which I did. I’m usually pretty good at detecting scam emails and just delete them straight away. But because I’d been speaking to this fellow for so long, a certain trust had been built up… never again! If I’ve learned anything from this, it’s to never open an app at someone’s instructions.”

According to the ACCC’s Scamwatch, in 2021, most of the money lost in fraud schemes was to investment scams, which fleeced Australians out of a collective $701 million. Many of these were cryptocurrency scams, and those aged 65-plus were most affected.

A class underway at Manly Computer Pals. Photo: Manly Computer Pals

According to Australian Seniors Computer Clubs Association director, Brett Levy, “The biggest red flag is that the scammer’s modus operandi is to take control of the victim’s device. No reputable company would do this.”

In an article published by CHOICE, it was reported that older Australians are also disproportionately affected by remote-access scams (where a scammer posing as a representative from a company you do business with convinces you to install software on your computer or mobile phone and then accesses your bank account). These scams typically involve someone pretending to be from the National Broadband Network (NBN) or one of the big Telcos, banks, or online retailers like Amazon.

Like Jenny, Cate Archibald too was scammed, but unlike Jenny, neither Cate nor her bank or the police, know how the scam took place. Back in August, someone made three or four withdrawals from Cate’s Credit Card account. “Like I told the bank and the police”, said Cate, “my cards were never out of my possession. They weren’t stolen or lost. And no-one had access to my computer.”

Manly Police Station, Manly, Sydney, Australia. Photo: Alec Smart

Yet scammers were somehow able to separately withdraw large amounts of $2,000 and $5,000. Cate has an alarm on her phone, which tells her whenever an amount has been withdrawn from her account. The moment she realised someone else was using her details to withdraw funds, she notified both the bank and Dee Why Police.

These payments were supposedly being made to legitimate businesses – one, an investment company in the city… the other Western Union! And the bank told Cate they did not have the authority to stop “a pending transaction”, even though she’d informed them they were fraudulent.

Later on, payments started to be made using Cate’s Debit Card… two to Uber, a service she has never used and for which she has no account set up and then what she deems to be the piece de resistance, the criminals set up a direct debit account for $50 per month with Vodafone – again, a company Cate has never used!

Cate took matters into her own hands and shut down all her accounts and set up new ones… and the bank finally made good on reimbursing her losses. “It took a lot of jumping up and down”, says Cate, “but eventually I got every last cent back.”

Since these hacks back in August, Cate has been wary and is yet to activate her new Credit Card account and has only just returned to online banking. “So far, so good”, she says. “I haven’t had any more problems… but then, I’m now using my husband’s credit card!”, she says with a smile in her voice.

Spotlight on scammers

This Scams Awareness Week (27 November -1 December 2023), the National Anti-Scam Centre is raising awareness about impersonation scams, which accounted for more than 70% of the 234,672 reports to Scamwatch between 1 January and 30 September, 2023.

“Scammers are criminals, who use sophisticated tactics to convince their victims they are from their bank, a government agency or even a high-profile recruitment firm offering what may seem like an amazing job opportunity,” ACCC Deputy Chair Catriona Lowe said.

“That’s why we are urging consumers to take a minute and ask themselves if the person they are communicating with – whether it be online or by text, phone or email – is really who they say they are. Could it be a scammer?”

“Scammers deliberately put their victims under pressure and make them feel like they need to act quickly, such as making claims there has been suspicious activity on their bank account. Don’t rush to act. Take a moment to consider if it could be a scam,” Ms Lowe said.

Most common impersonation scams

The impersonation scams inflicting the most financial harm on Australians were imposter bond scams ($35 million lost), business email compromise scams ($14 million lost) and bank impersonation scams ($11 million lost).

The most reported impersonation scams were road toll scams (19,141 reports), Australian Government impersonation scams (17,770 reports) and “Hi Mum” family impersonation scams (9,307 reports).

Jobs and employment scams, where scammers impersonate recruitment agencies and high-profile employers, were the fastest growing scam type, with reported losses increasing by 435% to $22.7 million in the year to date.

Reports to Scamwatch showed scammers mostly contacted their victims via text message (49,572 reports), phone (10,565 reports) and online (2,904 reports).

“Don’t be afraid to hang up the phone – it’s never rude to protect yourself from scams. A person calling from a legitimate business or agency should understand if you prefer to call them back, using contact details you have sourced independently,” Ms Lowe said.

“Likewise, never click a link in a text message or open an attachment in an email if you were not expecting the text or email. We know these are tactics used by scammers to steal personal information. About 16% of all impersonation scams this year, involved a loss of personal information, which can ultimately lead to identity theft and financial losses.”

Further information and other key statistics on impersonation scams can be found on the Scams Awareness Week website here.

Protect yourself

  1. Never send money or give your personal information, credit card, online bank or cryptocurrency account details to anyone you don’t know, especially if you’ve only met them online, through email or over the phone.
  2. Never click on links in text messages or open attachments in emails if you were not expecting the text or email.
  1. Avoid any arrangement that asks for up-front payment via bank transfer, PayID or cryptocurrency, like Bitcoin. It is rare to recover money sent this way.
  1. Be cautious of anyone making contact via encrypted message platforms. These platforms are commonly used by scammers.
  1. Know who you are dealing with. Contact the business or organisation via phone numbers sourced from an independent internet search.
  1. Don’t be pressured to act quickly. A legitimate business or agency will not require you to take action immediately.
  1. Remember to update passwords to your online accounts regularly and use strong passwords or passphrases.

Top tips for avoiding scams

STOP – Don’t give money or personal information to anyone if you’re unsure. Scammers will create a sense of urgency. Don’t rush to act. Take your time and don’t give money or personal information.

THINK – Ask yourself could the call or text be fake? Scammers pretend to be from organisations you know and trust. Contact the organisation using information you source independently, so that you can verify if the call is real or not. If you’re not sure, hang up.

PROTECT – Act quickly if something feels wrong. Contact your bank immediately if you lose money. If you have provided personal information call IDCARE on 1800 595 160.

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Manly Observer is an experiment in providing non-sensationalist hyperlocal news on Sydney’s Northern Beaches. We cover the big news across the LGA, but with a hyper focus on the Manly electorate encompassing Balgowlah, Seaforth, Freshwater, Brookvale and Curl Curl up to Dee Why. It is run by those living in the community for the benefit of an informed community. We care about an informed and connected community. That’s it. Simple. Thank you for your support in keeping quality local news alive!

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