Helping consumers manage
their financial challenges

Scamwatch: Coronavirus

08/05/2020

Source: ican.org.au

Unfortunately, as the effects of the Covid-19 virus in Australia have become increasingly serious, a number of scammers have sought to take advantage of consumers. The ACCC’s Consumer Consultative Committee (of which ICAN is a member) has provided the latest information about frequently reported coronavirus scams, scams targeted at specific sectors, and advice for consumers.

General
Scams

Scammers are taking advantage of current high demand and shortages of
face and surgical masks by purporting to sell and deliver facemasks. They may
use names of prominent companies known to produce these masks, particularly
those based in Europe. Victims are asked to pay via bank transfers in advance,
typically to bank accounts in European countries; however, the victim never
receives the product, the scammer becomes unreachable, or the
websites/platforms disappear. There have also been cases where victims are
directed to collect the paid masks from various clinics, only to discover upon
collection that there were no such arrangements.

  • Similar scams exist for other products impacted
    by the coronavirus, such as hand sanitiser and other medical PPE. Scammers are also
    offering non-existent cures or vaccinations for the virus.
  • Scammers are emailing malicious links and
    documents that claim to contain information on how to protect against the
    spread of COVID-19. In many cases, recipients are asked to log into a website
    with their email address and password. By doing so, criminals can install
    malware on the recipient’s device and steal money or sensitive information. To
    do this, scammers are impersonating prominent organisations such as the
    Department of Health in Australia, and the World Health Organization (WHO).
  • Using text messages and social media, scammers are impersonating grocery
    retailers such as Coles and Woolworths. They offer free shopping vouchers to help
    consumers financially impacted by the coronavirus. Clicking the link provided
    by these scammers may lead to the loss of an individual’s information.
  • Scammers are using the coronavirus to assist in the perpetration of
    puppy scams.  Consumers should always
    properly investigate a breeder before committing to the purchase of an animal.

Financial
Scams

  • Scammers
    are taking advantage of the Government’s announcement that people suffering
    financial hardship can have early access to their superannuation from
    mid-April. Scammers have been messaging or cold calling individuals,
    claiming to be able to help them obtain early access to their superannuation;
    and determining if they are eligible for benefits or that the Government’s new
    superannuation scheme will lock them out of their accounts. While no losses
    have yet been recorded for these scams, lost personal information could
    potentially allow scammers to access an individual’s super account.
  • The ATO is managing the new early-release
    process through the MyGov website. There is no need to involve a third party,
    and there are no fees involved.
  • There are a number of investment scams,
    particularly via social media, that are claiming that coronavirus has created
    opportunities for investment and encouraging consumers to invest with them.
  • Scammers are impersonating banking and financial
    institutes, claiming that personal details need updating in response to the
    pandemic.
  • Scammers
    are impersonating suppliers in business email compromise scams and using
    COVID-19 as an excuse to divert businesses’ usual account payments to a
    different bank account.

Telecommunications
Scams

  • Scammers have been calling victims and
    impersonating health or government officials asking for personal information to
    conduct “contact tracing” –an identification and monitoring process for people
    who have been in close contact with infected individuals. Typically, victims
    are asked for payment or banking details for purported “verification” purposes.
  • There
    have been multiple reports that scammers are claiming to be a representative of
    Telstra or Netflix offering free streaming services.

Scams
affecting CALD communities

  • Scammers have been targeting the Chinese
    community with automated messages about coronavirus and threatening individuals
    with arrest if money is not urgently sent.
  • Scamwatch has received reports
    of the above superannuation scams targeting the Thai community in Australia;
    however other CALD communities may also be affected by this scam. A warning
    about these scams will be available in Thai on the Scamwatch website.

Scams affecting older Australians

  • Scammers are reportedly calling
    older Australians pretending to be a relative (e.g. grandchild) after being admitted
    to hospital for medical treatment for a COVID-19 infection. Victims are urged
    to pay for medical treatment by depositing money or handing over cash or other
    valuables to “hospital representatives” who will appear at the victims’ residence.
  • Scammers are using the
    Government’s announcement on early superannuation access to target older
    consumers. People should be particularly wary of any cold callers claiming they
    can provide advice on whether their super account is eligible for various
    benefits or claiming the new scheme will lock them out their super accounts.
  • In most cases the scammers are seeking to obtain personal information that
    will help them fraudulently access a victim’s superannuation funds.

Protecting Yourself

  • Be aware of fraudulent emails claiming to be
    from experts saying that they have information about the virus. For the most
    up-to-date information about the coronavirus, visit the Department of Health and the World
    Health Organization
     (WHO).
  • When buying essentials be careful of fake online
    shopping sites requesting unusual payment methods such as upfront payment via
    money order, wire transfer, international funds transfer, preloaded card or
    electronic currency, like Bitcoin. Information is available at Online
    shopping scams
    .
  • The best way to detect a fake trader or social
    media online shopping scam is to search for reviews before purchasing. No
    vaccine or cure presently exists for the coronavirus.
  • Don’t let anyone pressure you to make quick
    decisions. Take your time and consider who you are dealing with.
  • Don’t click on links from sources you don’t
    know. They could download viruses onto your computer or device.
  • Don’t open attachments or click on links in
    emails, text messages or social media messages you’ve received from strangers —
    just press delete.
  • Never respond to unsolicited messages and calls
    that ask for personal or financial details — just press delete or hang up.
  • Always keep your computer security up to date
    with anti-virus and anti-spyware software, and a good firewall. Only buy
    computer and anti-virus software from a reputable source.
  • If you are planning to donate, do your research.
    If you are donating to crowdfunding requests, check the terms and conditions of
    funding platforms and ensure you are dealing with official organisations.
  • If you are donating to an established charity or
    not-for-profit organisation, ensure it is registered and that you are on the
    official website by searching the Australian
    Charities and Not-for-profits Commission Charity Register
    .
  • Stay
    up to date with latest consumer advice relating to COVID-19 (coronavirus) on
    the ACCC website at: www.accc.gov.au/covid-19