The competition watchdog, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission warned it received more that 7100 reports made to Scamwatch so far this year and “in reality, losses are likely to be far greater”.
The ACCC says there has been an increase in scams reported during tax time such as text messages claiming to be from myGov or from agencies claiming to help victims gain early access to their superannuation.
“Scammers are increasingly taking advantage of the financial difficulties and uncertainty generated from the COVID-19 pandemic to trick unsuspecting Australians,” ACCC Deputy Chair Delia Rickard said.
“We are seeing two main types of scams impersonating government departments; fake government threats and phishing scams.”
“Both of these scams can be quite convincing and can lead to significant financial losses or even identity theft.”
According to the ACCC, in a fake government threat scam, victims receive a robocall pretending to be from a government department, such as the ATO or Department of Home Affairs - with the scammer claiming something illegal, such as tax fraud or money laundering has been committed in the victim’s name and they should dial 1 to speak to an operator.
The scammer then tries to scare people into handing over money and may threaten that they would be arrested if they refuse.
“Don’t be pressured by a threatening caller and take your time to consider who you might be dealing with,” Rickard said.
“Government departments will never threaten you with immediate arrest or ask for payment by unusual methods such as gift cards, iTunes vouches or bank transfers.”
The ACCC warns that in a phishing scam, victims will receive an email or text message claiming to be from a government department, such as Services Australia, requesting personal details to confirm their eligibility for a government payment or because the person may have been exposed to COVID-19.
And the emails and texts will include a link and request personal details such as a tax file number, superannuation details or copies of identity documents.
“Don’t click on any hyperlinks in texts or emails to reach a government website, always type the address into the browser yourself,” Rickard said.
“Do not respond to texts or emails as the scammer will escalate their attempts to get your money.
“If you’re not sure whether a call is legitimate, hang up and call the relevant organisation directly by finding the details though an independent search.”
The ACCC also recommends that the scam be report to the government department that was impersonated.
So far in 2020 (1 January - 5 July) Scamwatch has received:
- 67 reports of scams involving impersonation of the Department of Health, or state Department of Health and Human Services, with losses over $8700
- 443 reports of scams involving Australian Federal Police impersonations with losses over $176,000
- 1,070 reports of scams involving Services Australia impersonations with losses over $94,000
- 1,638 reports of scams involving myGov impersonations with losses over $105,000
- 2,016 reports of scams involving Department of Home Affairs impersonations with losses over $99,000
- 2,389 reports of scams involving ATO impersonations with losses over $905,000