COVID-19 scams and how to avoid them
ACCC urges Australians to be aware of coronavirus scams during COVID-19 crisis.
Scammers and hackers with a nose for opportunity are working overtime to exploit Australians during the coronavirus crisis, from selling fake cures to targeting super funds.
“We’ve seen a huge explosion of scams related to COVID-19, says Delia Rickard, deputy chair of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, which operates the government’s Scamwatch website.
“The basic gist of these scams dosen’t change that much – but the scammers recast them to attach to topical issues so it adds that air of legitimacy.”
Delia says that of particular concern right now are ‘phishing’ scams that trawl for personal information via unsolicited text messages and emails, and cold-callers trying to steal from super funds now that the federal government has allowed Australians early access to some of their superannuation.
“We’ve had a number of complaints about that and it’s particularly concerning – that’s a big pool of money and a big payday of $10,000 a go for the scammer.”
Fake investment scams are now touting for finance for coronavirus-related products, while online shopping scams abound, some offering non-existent COVID-19 vaccinations, cures and home test kits. Other scammers are putting a COVID-19 spin on persistent rackets including puppy scams and romance scams, using the crisis as an excuse to ask for more money.
Fundraising scams are “doubly bad”, says Delia, “because not only is the person being scammed but also the charity that would do good work with that money is not receiving the funds.
“It’s terrible at times like this that scammers are exploiting people, particularly those in financial hardship. It’s completely contemptible.”
Delia has simple advice for anyone receiving unsolicited calls, emails or messages.
“First of all don’t click on links, even if you’re seeing something that says it’s from the government. Go and put the correct web address in your browser and do it manually so it’s not diverted off to a scam.
“If somebody has contacted you out of the blue, do not provide any personal details, particularly not banking or other account details. And don’t ever give anyone who contacts you out of the blue remote access to a computer, no matter what their reason.”
She also warns that Australians working from home may be more vulnerable to cyber-crime, with less-secure home devices than those they would use at work.
“They may not have the same firewall, anti-malware and anti-spyware software,” says Delia. “It’s really important to ensure if you are working from home that you keep your computer secure, that you’re not sharing passwords and you keep your passwords strong.”