An acquaintance of mine was recently scammed by a caller telling her she owed $97 thousand dollars and that the Australian Federal Police were bugging her phone. She said ‘I kept asking if it was a scam. I half thought it was a scam.’ But she gave them her address anyway, so whoever called her now has two pieces of information to assist in stealing her identity, if that’s what they were looking for. She also said ‘what choice did I have?’
While it’s easy to fall prey to scammers I think we always have a choice to say no when a person on the other end of the phone tells us to do something that is harmful to us. If someone you don’t know rings you up it’s a warning sign to take extra care. Of course, it’s not always easy to be vigilant, especially if you’re tired or feeling low.
My golden rule is that I NEVER discuss financial matters on the phone. Someone telling you you owe a load of money is trying to scare you, so even if it is possible that you have a debt, give yourself some breathing and thinking space to check it out. No-one can arrest you over the phone.
A real debt collector will be able to find you and will usually write to you. Tell a possible scammer that you don’t discuss finances on the phone and get them to provide you with a company name and postal address, their ABN, a contact name, a reference number for the alleged debt and how it was incurred. If you don’t have a pen and paper handy, get them to text you the info – they already have your phone number anyway.
Mostly, whoever is calling will probably hang up straight away, as you are already proving to be too much trouble. Good. If by some miracle they do give you the information you ask for, look them up. Check out yellow or white pages entries, look up the ABN, use the address to search for them. If they are legitimate you will get confirmation.
But why would you have a massive debt you’ve never heard of? Did you co-sign a loan agreement with someone who defaulted? Sometimes women get caught with this one – it’s STD – sexually transmitted debt. Did you ever default on a loan? Or not pay a credit card debt? If so, a legitimate debt collector will be after you.
If there is little to no possibility that you do owe anything then it’s a scam. Don’t give any information, get as many details as possible, hang up and report the scam to Scamwatch (www.scamwatch.gov.au). Then block the number.
Scammers will ask you to pay tax debts using gift cards, but the ATO doesn’t collect money using gift cards, and doesn’t call people. As a government department, they will write to you if you owe anything. On letterhead.
And beware of texts or email saying you have won a prize or money and NEVER click on the link as it will likely install malware on your phone which will harvest information or install ransomware on your computer – it locks your computer until you pay to get it unlocked. Also, make sure you have up to date virus protection and use the latest versions of operating systems.
While social media is a great way to keep in touch with friends, be careful of what you share, and of your privacy settings. Romance scams are the worst, targeting those who are just out of relationships or marriage. Scammers can spend months patiently stringing a victim along, seeming like the most charming person ever, before pouncing. Basically, if you have never met the person who says they love you so much, best not to hand over any money, no matter how trustworthy they seem. It’s a good idea to have this as a golden rule too – NEVER give money to anyone you only ‘know’ on the internet.
Other useful advice – keep strong passwords on all accounts and devices, don’t use public wi-fi, shop from reputable companies online, avoid sending money by wire transfer, keep account details private, hang up on robocalls as they are never legitimate, and report any suspicious activity to police and Scamwatch.
It’s your money, and your identity, so do whatever you can to look after it, and yourself. Australians lose vast sums every year to scammers, and much goes unreported, especially romance scams. Remember, if it seems to good to be true, it probably is. Don’t let yourself be pushed in to anything that is likely to be harmful to you. This message has been brought to you by your friendly neighbourhood anti-scammer.