How to spot some of the most common frauds

Scams are all around us. In fact, they're so common that more than 105,000 scams were reported to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission ACCC in 2015, resulting in losses of more than $84 million.1 And that's just the tip of the iceberg: many more scams went unreported, often because the victim was too embarrassed to tell authorities about the crime.

So, to help you identify and avoid the increasing number of scams, we've compiled a guide to 12 common scams. 

1. The urgent transfer

What it looks like: You receive an email from a friend, family member or senior staff member telling you they need urgent access to funds. The story adds up (they're probably overseas and short on time). Besides, it comes from their email address and looks authentic. 

What's really happening: Their email account has been compromised and you're transferring your money straight into the scammer's bank account.

2. The tampered ATM

What it looks like: You use a busy ATM to withdraw money. You notice nothing unusual and receive your money, just as you always do.

What's really happening: You've just passed your card through a skimming device, which has captured all of the data on its magnetic strip. Meanwhile a pinhole camera catches you entering your PIN. The scammers can use this information to create a dummy card that lets them draw on your account.

3. The mail that never came

What it looks like: That credit card you applied for never seemed to arrive.

What's really happening: Scammers accessed your letterbox and intercepted the card before you had a chance to receive it. They've changed the PIN and are now using it for themselves. In the process, they're racking up a significant debt in your name.

4. The parcel pickup

What it looks like: A postal services company sends you an email telling you that you have a parcel that can't be delivered. If you can't collect it within 30 days it will be destroyed. But first, you need to print off a label to redeem your package.

What's really happening: Rather than printing a label, you're actually downloading dangerous ransomware. Once it's installed, scammers can use it to lock files and even destroy them. The only way you can take back control is to pay them. Making sure your computer is regularly backed up can also help counter-effect the impact of ransomware.

5. The tax refund

What it looks like: You receive an email from a government agency advising you of a tax refund. To receive it, all you need to do is follow the link to your bank and enter your account details.

What's really happening: The link takes you to a fake site set up by the scammers. Instead of giving your account details – and internet banking password – to your bank, you're actually delivering this vital information straight into the scammer's hands.

6. The 'free' wifi

What it looks like: You're at the airport or hotel and need to connect your laptop or mobile to the internet. When you search for a connection, you're in luck. There's a free hotspot right nearby.

What's really happening: You've actually just connected to a fake network. This allows a scammer to intercept all network traffic and steal your personal information. And the pain doesn't stop there. From now on, every time you turn on your device, you could be transmitting the same 'free' wifi to other unsuspecting users. You should only connect to wifi that you know is legitimate and, if in doubt, pay to access a secure network. You should also make sure your anti-virus software is up to date and your firewall is turned on.

7. The overseas placement

What it looks like: A recruiter posts an advertisement for a job in another country. When you apply you need to pay the recruiter for your visas, travel or other expenses before you start.

What's really happening: You've just handed money, and possibly your personal information, directly to a scammer who now disappears, never to be seen again.

8. The unrealistic job offer

What it looks like: You respond to an advertisement that promises you'll earn good money from the comfort of your home as an 'accounts processor'. All you need to do is set up a bank account and forward any money that comes into it, onto another account. You even get a cut of each transaction for your troubles. 

What's really happening: You're being used by fraudsters as a “money mule”: an everyday person with no criminal history through whose bank account they'll move the proceeds of crime. If you're in any doubt about the seriousness of what you're being asked to do, just remember that intentionally laundering money carries a prison sentence of up to 25 years.

9. The speeding fine

What it looks like:  A government body/law enforcement agency, emails you to tell you that your vehicle has been caught speeding. You need to download the photo they've taken to confirm you were driving.

What's really happening: The link you click on downloads ransomware to your computer. You'll have to pay the scammers to get back the files they encrypt.

10. The love interest

What it looks like: You sign up to a dating site and meet someone like you've never met before. Luckily for you, they fall fast too. Before long they want to move it beyond the internet, the only problem is they're overseas. So they need you to wire money to them so that they can come and visit you.

What's really happening: The love of your life never really existed. You've been scammed.

11. The computer problem

What it looks like: You receive a call from your internet service provider. They've detected a virus on your computer and it's sending error messages. The good news is that they can fix it, so long as you give them remote access.

What's really happening:  You've handed control of your computer to a scammer. They'll probably try to steal your personal data or hold your computer to ransom until you pay.

12. The store voucher

What it looks like:  A well-known brand uses its social media account to post that it's giving away gift vouchers or free flights or another very attractive perk. To claim your prize, all you need to do is like the post.

What's really happening: You've fallen victim to a 'like farming' scam. The page isn't authentic but has been sent up by a scammer who's trying to get as many likes as possible. They'll on-sell these likes - and your profile - to other fraudsters, who will start pushing spam posts in an effort to get hold of your credit card data.

And that's just the beginning...

As the world becomes alert to the prevalence of scams, scammers are responding by becoming more creative. So, as these 12 scams start to become less effective, it's likely that newer and more sophisticated ones will take their place. That's why it pays to stay vigilant and to report any suspicious activity to both Scamwatch and the police.

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Additional information

Unless stated otherwise, this information has been prepared by Macquarie Bank Limited ABN 46 008 583 542 AFSL & Australian Credit Licence 237502 and does not take into account your objectives, financial situation or needs. Before making any financial investment decision or a decision about whether to acquire a credit or lending product, a person should obtain and review the terms and conditions relating to that product and also seek independent financial, legal and taxation advice. All applications are subject to Macquarie’s standard credit approval criteria.