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Monday, 24 August 2009 14:50

Online crims go phishing for Australian tax refunds

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Cyber criminals have been tricking Australian taxpayers into revealing highly sensitive, personal information – essentially stealing their identities – to get hold of their tax refunds in a new phishing scam targeting the Australian Tax Office.

The phishing scam, using false ATO communications, was revealed today by security firm, VeriSign, who commissioned a YouGov survey which shows that Australia is, in fact, one of the most vulnerable countries, alongside the UK and the US, to online fraud attacks.

According to the survey, 86 percent of Australian Web users are at risk of online fraud because they are unable to identify the different forms of phishing, and VeriSign says the findings of this latest survey are a timely reminded to all Australian consumers of the consequences they may face if they don’t take care when sharing personal information online.

The global survey asked more than 8,000 respondents across nine countries to "spot the difference" between real and fake Web sites from VeriSign’s recently launched the Phish or no Phish challenge.

VeriSign warns that new areas for fraudsters to “monopolise our time and infiltrate our bank accounts and personal identities” continues to rise and says that Australians need to take note and listen to the warnings.

According to VeriSign, ATO statistics released just this week, show that 90 per cent of tax returns are now done online, which according to the security firm means that awareness of phishing scams is more important than ever, and Australians particularly need to take heed.

VeriSign Asia Pacific director of authentication services, Armando Dacal, said today scare tactics by fraudsters remains an effective form of phishing for Australian consumers, and he cautions that, despite targeted education efforts by banks, online retailers and other institutions alerting customers not to share their personal information online, almost a quarter - 23% percent -  of Australians still fall into this trap.

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In addition to this latest research, VeriSign also revealed late last year that 84 per cent of Australians had received some form of online threat during 2008 via email from impostor banks or other institutions requesting money transfers, and despite the large percentage who reported receiving phishing messages, a “surprising 97 per cent of respondents still believed they were at low risk from online security threats.”

Dacal says it’s always important for consumers  to check whether or not a site is genuine and take measures to protect personal details online, “whether that be for a tax return, shopping online or checking your bank balance.”

Here, too, is what VeriSign recommends we Australians should keep our eyes open for as we try to evade these latest phishing scams:

•    https:// The “s” in https:// means the site is encrypted, so the information you enter is secured.  While some phishing sites do have a secured Web address, many do not.  Therefore, site visitors should be on the lookout for missing security on sites that should have it.

•    The padlock icon:  To be meaningful this icon must appear in the actual browser interface and not inside the content of the page itself.

•    Trust marks:  Simple visual cues in the form of popular logos can show that a Web site is authenticated, secured, and the company is reputable.

•    Check the Web address:  Be suspicious of any site with an unknown domain that contains the name of a well known site in the latter part of the Web address.

•    Green address bar:  This signifies that this site has undergone extensive identity authentication so that you can be confident it is the site it claims to be.

In a final word of warning, Dacal says that VeriSign’s research tested the applicability and understanding of a variety of phishing methods Australian consumers need to be aware of and found that “sneaky strategies such as imitation Web sites that try and phish your personal details have been shown to work across all demographics, particularly on the age group 45- 54 years.”

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