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Online scams to be aware of and how to stay safe online

5 October 2017

Each year scams cost individual Australians, businesses and the economy hundreds of millions of dollars. In fact, according to, Australians lost over $229 million to scams in 2015. Scammers are targeting consumers and businesses that are increasingly buying and selling online, now more than ever. The best way to protect yourself from a scam is to be aware of what to look out for and knowing how to stay safe online. Below, we look at some of the more common scams to look out for and the necessary precautions to protect yourself from them.

How to spot a scam

It's not only the gullible or vulnerable that are susceptible to scams. Scammers can be very shrewd, coming up with new and inventive ways to trick you into handing over your personal details. Some of the most common and 'successful' scams are very cleverly disguised as legitimate business communications. For example, email scams often request that you update your personal details or login to check messages on social media platforms. They will then ask you to click on a link to update your details and you will be taken to a malicious website that's intended to capture your details. Often these email scams will have logos or images embedded in them to make them look like they're from legitimate sources.

According to the ACCC's Little Black Book of Scams , these are some of the top online scams to be aware of:

  • Theft and penalty scams: often posing as a government agency e.g. Australian Tax Office, and requesting payment for a fake debt or fake unpaid bill
  • Unexpected money scams: contact out of the blue saying that you've won a competition that you didn't enter or that "a prince has died and left you millions"
  • Online shopping, classifieds and auction scams: fake retailer websites that ask for payment outside of a legitimate site's secure payment facilities
  • Scams targeting computers and mobile devices: where malware or spyware is inadvertently installed on your computer, usually via email scams, and your details are extracted or your computer is corrupted.

How to shop online safely

More and more people are turning to online shopping for their groceries, clothing, electronics and much, much more. And with more global online retailers soon to hit Australian shores, the online retail marketplace is only going to expand. Staying safe online when you shop is about being smart with your purchasing process. Only use secure payment facilities such as credit cards, and avoid using wire or money transfers as these are often the preferred method for scammers. Be careful when handing over your credit card information online, particularly if someone asks you to hand over your payment details outside of a secure system. Once you go outside of a business' secure network there's very little they can do to protect you and your details.

Here's how to shop online safely and avoid being stung by email scams:

  • Never download an email attachment from a source you're unfamiliar with
  • A bank will never ask you to click on a link in an email to update your details or download a file. They will always recommend that you login through the website or secure mobile bank app to update your details
  • Be cautious of unsolicited emails that request you update your password by "clicking here". These are often phishing scams and can include links that lead to a phishing site – a fake version of a legitimate website. They're designed to "phish out" your personal and banking information
  • All scams involve identity theft of some sort. Be cautious with how and who you hand your personal details over to online
  • Trust your gut, if you something doesn't feel right it probably isn't.

What to do if you think you've become the victim of a scam

If you notice a suspicious charge on your credit card – or you think your credit card security has been compromised – you should get in touch with your bank immediately. If your banking details have been 'mined', often the scammer will take a small amount at first to test if the account is active, once successful they will attempt to extract much larger amounts. So, if you see a transaction that doesn't add up, get in contact with your financial institution immediately. Explore Suncorp's safe banking tips to find out how you can protect your banking details online.

There is no one cure-all for avoiding scams and staying safe online; online security involves being aware of what scams are out there and knowing how to spot and avoid them.

Explore the resources below to find out more information on how to identify scams and stay safe online:

Information is intended to be of a general nature only and any advice has been prepared without taking into account any person's particular objectives, financial situation or needs. You should make your own enquiries, consider whether advice is appropriate for you and read the relevant Product Disclosure Statement or Product Information Document before making any decisions about whether to acquire a product.

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