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Tuesday, 24 April 2018 10:33

Beware the energy, telecommunications scams: ACCC Featured

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Beware the energy, telecommunications scams: ACCC Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The ACCC has warned of scammers impersonating energy and telecommunications providers and demanding payments in the wake of thousands of fake billing scams costing consumers losses of nearly $8000.

The warning by the competition and consumer watchdog’s Scamwatch comes after it received 5000 reports of fake billing scams in the last 12 months.

In one scam case reported to the ACCC, a customer received a fake Telstra bill in the mail stating that the customer’s account was overdue and immediate payment was needed.

The customer dialled the phone number provided and was asked by the scammers for his date of birth and driver’s licence number to confirm his identity.

“The scammers typically impersonate well-known companies such as Origin, AGL, Telstra and Optus via email, to fool people into assuming the bills are real,” ACCC deputy chair Delia Rickard warns.

“They send bulk emails or letters which include a logo and design features closely copied from the genuine provider. The bill states the account is overdue and if not paid immediately the customer will incur late charges or be disconnected.

“Alternatively, the bill may claim that the customer has overpaid and is owed a refund or it may simply say the bill is due and ready to pay,” Rickard said.

The ACCC says New South Wales residents reported the highest number of incidents of the fake billing scam, with 1779 households reporting being victims, compared to 1275 in Queensland and 1245 in Victoria, 485 in Western Australia, 462 in South Australia, 132 in the ACT, 117 in Tasmania and 38 in the Northern Territory.

“Older Australians should particularly be wary of emails pretending to be from utility companies, with people over 65 reporting the most fake utility billing scam incidents,” Rickard said.

“I advise consumers to contact their communications or energy provider directly via the company’s official channels to verify that the email or letter is actually from them.”

“Customers should never use the contact details provided on the suspicious email or letter but instead use an independent source to locate contact details such as a past bill or the phone book.”

The ACCC has issued a list of tips on how consumers can protect themselves:

    If you receive a bill outside of your normal billing cycle, or don’t expect to receive an overdue notice, call your provider to check whether it is legitimate.
    If you are not a customer of the company simply delete the email.
    Never click on links or open attachments in an email from an unverified sender – they may contain a malicious virus.
    Never send money or give credit card details, online account details or personal information to anyone you don’t know or trust and never by email or over the phone.
    Keep your computer secure – always update your firewall, anti-virus and anti-spyware software, and only buy from a verified source.

And Rickard says the ACCC encourages anyone who thinks they have been scammed to report it to Scamwatch and to subscribe to Scamwatch radar alerts.

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Peter Dinham

Peter Dinham is a co-founder of iTWire and a 35-year veteran journalist and corporate communications consultant. He has worked as a journalist in all forms of media – newspapers/magazines, radio, television, press agency and now, online – including with the Canberra Times, The Examiner (Tasmania), the ABC and AAP-Reuters. As a freelance journalist he also had articles published in Australian and overseas magazines. He worked in the corporate communications/public relations sector, in-house with an airline, and as a senior executive in Australia of the world’s largest communications consultancy, Burson-Marsteller. He also ran his own communications consultancy and was a co-founder in Australia of the global photographic agency, the Image Bank (now Getty Images).

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