I am not who I say I am…

Due to lockdowns, our reliance on digital means such as telephones and IT has increased remarkably. It is the same for crooks as being out and about is far more detectable. Over the weekend I had two attempted scam attacks, the first a honey pot attack, the second a phone scam.

Honey pot attacks are when purported younger women target middle-aged to older men. Fortunately, due to my training and experience, I spotted the honey pot trap instantly. I received a connection attempt from a purported young Chinese female professional that, for all measures seemed to work in an industry in our target market. I was flooded with messages as soon as I accepted the connection request. I was quickly on high alert for a potential scam.

The messages were business-related at first, then. Within 10 minutes there were invitations to visit her in China, and she would introduce me to her contacts. I checked her profile, and it revealed a 30 something-year-old model type girl. Then she invited me to connect via WhatsApp, the medium for many scammers. I told her that I did not know what WhatsApp was, and instantly she disappeared from my life just as quickly as she entered. My chances of great business connections and potential love affair with a 30 something Chinese women ended in a moment. In truth, the WhatsApp question provided the very last piece of evidence required. A scammer will always steer you away from social networks such as LinkedIn and Facebook, as the large social networks delete accounts that are reported or detected as dodgy. There is no such protection on WhatsApp. In actual fact, I was potentially chatting to a large and hairy male scammer, rather than a petite 30 something Chinese woman. I reported ‘her’ to LinkedIn, and her profile has since been removed.

Around 2 hours later, my mobile phone rang. I was greeted with a recorded message from Telstra informing me that “illegal activity has been detected on your account, as a consequence we have suspended the account (strange that they had just called me on my Telstra phone) and I was to push 1 to talk to Telstra’s security executive”. I immediately hang up, and I have never heard from them again. Had I have pressed one, then chances are I will have downloaded malware onto my phone, or been directed to open a link on my PC. Many people have fallen victim to this scam and lost control of their email and PayPal accounts, often losing substantial funds.

So, have we seen a spike in scam activity or was I just unlucky? According to the ACCC, in 2020 alone, Australians have lost $101million to scammers. These figures are deeply concerning and are increasing year on year.

Phishing is the most common scam reported

The types of scams are varied. In terms of dollars lost, investment and dating and romance scams are the largest.  Australians have lost $37mil and $26mil to these types of scams respectively this year. ‘Phishing’, the fraudulent practise of sending emails purporting to be from reputable companies to induce individuals to reveal personal information, such as passwords and credit card numbers, is the scam reported most frequently.

The telephone, the internet, or social media is the most common means scammers use to con people, with Gen X and Baby Boomers the most targeted. The latter group having lost the most money to scammers this year ($23million). Considering the increasing prevalence of scammers, how do you spot and scammer and protect yourself?

The Australian Government’s ‘SCAMWATCH’ website lists several practical steps we can take to protect ourselves from various types of scams/scammers; they include:

  • Be alert to the fact that scams exist.
  • Know who you’re dealing with.
  • Do not open suspicious texts, pop-up windows or click on links or attachments in emails – delete them.
  • Don’t respond to phone calls about your computer asking for remote access – hang up – even if they mention a well-known company such as Telstra or Microsoft
  • Keep your personal details secure. Put a lock on your mailbox and shred your bills and other important documents before throwing them out.
  • Beware of any requests for your details or money.

The full list can be found here. We are only going to be more vigilant to scams in short to medium term. As unemployment rises, people may be increasingly vulnerable, and therefore, the scammers will be more active. I was fortunate. I readily identified that this person was a fake. As the numbers indicate, others are not so lucky.