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Protect yourself from COVID-19 related scams

Aside from the shutdowns, job losses and restrictions, there’s been another worrying element to the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic – scammers are zeroing in on the changes to our financial interactions and shopping habits to take advantage of people across Australia.  

 
 
Government website Scamwatch.gov.au reports that it’s received reports of over 2700 COVID-19 related scams – with over $1,114,000 in reported losses – since the pandemic began(i). 
 

Types of scams to look out for

 
Phishing scams:
 
‘Phishing’ is a type of fraudulent messaging (either through email or SMS text), and often directs people to enter their personal information on a fake website. Once personal information is entered, it’s sent to scammers and your computer may be compromised, or in other words, hacked. 
 
Alternatively, the scammer may want you to open an email attachment so that a malicious script can be executed resulting in your computer and data being compromised. 
 
Known COVID-19 phishing scams include those pretending to be from: 
 
  • MyGov, the Department of Health, the Australian Taxation Office and Services Australia 
  • the World Health Organization 
  • banks, supermarkets, travel agents, and 
  • insurance and telecommunication companies. 
 
To avoid becoming a victim, you shouldn’t click on links in messages or respond to messages that ask for personal or financial details. Instead, delete any suspicious messages, and check they’re real by visiting the organisation’s website directly using your internet browser (rather than through clicking a hyperlink) and calling them on the number located there. Additionally, we recommend you hover your curser over the suspicious link (without clicking) to reveal its true destination (URL). 
 
Be sure to visit the ACCC’s scam watch webpage to obtain more info. 
 
Online shopping scams:
 
Some scammers have created fake web-based or social media stores that sell products related to COVID-19 such as cures, vaccinations or face masks, however upon placing an order and paying, victims receive nothing. 
 
The website may look legitimate by using professional layouts and logos, but one of the best ways to detect a fake seller is to search for reviews before purchasing. Another tell-tale sign can be requests for upfront payment via unusual methods such as money order, wire transfer, international funds transfer, preloaded card or a cryptocurrency like Bitcoin. 
 
Superannuation scams:
 
Scammers are taking advantage of the government’s COVID-19 temporary change to super, which allows eligible people to access some of their super early. 
 
These scams typically begin with a phone call claiming to be from a super fund or financial services company. The scammer may ask if you’ve been contacted by your super fund first, then if the answer is no, offer to check whether you’re eligible to access your super early or help you to do it. 
 
Another scam involves offering to check that you haven’t been locked out of your super account, or tell you that your inactive super account will be locked if not merged with another super account. They often ask you for your personal details to “help out”, try to obtain log in credentials and/or request a fee payment in return for their assistance. 
 
There have also been cases where texts claiming to be sent from the National Superannuation Review offer a review of your superannuation due to COVID-19 and changes to legislation. 
 
If you’re contacted in such a way, you should avoid sharing any personal details and instead get in touch with the organisation yourself to check whether the contact was legitimate. 
 
It’s worth noting that the only way to apply to withdraw your super, if you are eligible under the COVID-19 early release of superannuation scheme, is online through the MyGov website. So there’s no need to involve a third party or pay a fee to get access under this scheme. 
 

How to protect yourself

 
Amid our online interactions and cashless transactions, cybercrime is, sadly, a part of modern life. And scams are becoming increasingly sophisticated. 
 
However, there are some things you can do to stop yourself from becoming a victim: 
 
  • Remain alert about unsolicited contact – if it feels off, it probably is. Never give information about your superannuation to someone who has contacted you. Take your time and consider who you might be dealing with. Instead, contact the organisation yourself and ask them about the phone call/email/text message – if it’s legitimate they can confirm it, and if not, there’s a good chance they already know about the scam or by alerting them to it, you can help protect others.
  • Protect your personal details – don’t share sensitive, commonly-used personal data, such as your date of birth, Medicare or driver’s licence number with others, and avoid using shared or public computers to log into sensitive websites. Also make sure you keep your details up to date with organisations you deal with so that if something should go wrong, they can notify you.
  • Protect your passwords – choose difficult passwords that aren’t related to your personal information (such as your date of birth or phone number) and change them regularly. Take care about how and where you store your passwords and never share them with anyone.
  • Protect your devices – installing and updating security software, such as firewall, anti-virus, anti-spyware and spam filtering software, helps protect your devices against fraudulent activity by detecting and preventing online attacks.
  • Avoid clicking on hyperlinks – you should never enter sensitive details into a website you’ve arrived at by clicking on a link. In particular, always go directly to the website of a financial institution or online banking system and always log out when you’re finished.
 

Report it

 
If you become aware of a scam, or fall victim to one, you should report it to Scamwatch or ReportCyber and the organisation in question. 
 
 
i https://www.scamwatch.gov.au/types-of-scams/current-covid-19-coronavirus-scams 
 
 
 
 
©AMP Life Limited. First published June 2020