Online scams or fraud

With the growth in online services and internet use, there are many opportunities for criminals to commit scams and fraud. These are dishonest schemes that seek to take advantage of unsuspecting people to gain a benefit (such as money, or access to personal details). These are often contained in spam and phishing messages. There are criminal offences which apply to fraud in Australia. 

Common types of online scams include:

  • Unexpected prize scams,
  • Unexpected money scams,
  • Dating or romance scams,
  • Threats and extortion scams,
  • Jobs and investment scams, and
  • Identity theft.

Do not respond to online scams or fraud. If you receive an email or SMS which looks like a scam, the best thing to do is delete it. Do not respond, attempt to unsubscribe, or call any telephone number listed in the message. Most importantly, do not send any money, credit card details or other personal details to the scammers. You should also report online scams and fraud to the ACORN. 

The Government’s SCAMwatch website provides further information on the different categories of online fraud and how to protect yourself from them.

Unexpected prize scams

Unexpected prize scams include lottery scams, scratchie scams and travel scams. These scams can be delivered online, by telephone or by mail. They inform you that you have won a prize (eg. a large sum of money, shopping vouchers, a free holiday or travel related products), and to claim it you are asked to send money or provide personal information.

If you are the recipient of an unexpected prize scam, you should report it to the ACORN.

Unexpected money scams

This includes inheritance scams, ‘Nigerian’ scams, money reclaim scams and other upfront payment or advanced fee fraud. These scams ask you to:

  • send money upfront for a product or reward,
  • provide personal information, pay taxes and lawyer fees to claim your inheritance or large claim that you have from a distant relative overseas, or
  • transfer money on someone’s behalf with the promise of receiving money.

If you are the recipient of an unexpected money scam, you should report it to the ACORN.

Dating and romance scams

Dating and romance scams are particularly convincing because they appeal to your romantic or compassionate side. They play on emotional triggers to get you to provide money, gifts or personal details. 

If you are the recipient of a dating or romance scams, you should report it to the ACORN.

Threat and extortion scams

Threat and extortion scams include ‘ransomware’, ‘malware’ and ‘hit man’ scams. Ransomware and malware scams can involve harmful software being placed on your computer. This can give criminals access to your personal information, which may result in loss of data or prevent you from accessing your programs and files. Scammers then demand payment before allowing you to access your computer again. 

‘Hit man scams’ involve scammers sending random death threats via SMS or email from a hired ‘hit man’. The message will contain threats to kill you unless you send the hit man cash. 

If you are the recipient of a threat or extortion scam, you should report it to the ACORN.

Case study 

Steve is an accountant for a medical business on the Gold Coast. He finds that he is not able to access the business’s database with client details. He receives an email from an unknown person claiming to have locked down the database. The email asks for $10,000 to be transferred to an offshore account for access to be restored. Steve should report this to the ACORN and take steps to secure his business network and back up information to prevent further loss.

Jobs and investment scams

Job scams target people who are looking for a new job or who want to work from home. Often these scams promise a high income for little work but request an up-front payment before starting work. 

Investment scams involve scammers contacting you via unsolicited phone calls or email with offers of investments in lucrative schemes that will provide attractive returns. In many cases, scammers use sophisticated and genuine looking websites to convince consumers their offers are legitimate. 

If you are the recipient of a job or investment scam, you should report it to the ACORN. These scams may cause you to engage in money laundering, which is a serious crime.