Australian ‘Scamwatch’ – “Threat based, On-Line Scams Increase 40% in 2021”

Australians have been suffering from a relentless increase in on-line scams over the past year, mirroring other Western countries as on-line frauds worldwide rise at an alarming rate. The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), a government-funded agency, established its ‘Scamwatch’ website to provide Scam alert services to all Australian Government agencies, while also working with consumers, private industry, and public infrastructure management agencies. Last week ‘Scamwatch’ reported that Australians “have lost over $8.8 million to threat-based scams so far this year, and young people are reporting the highest losses”. In statistical terms, this represents a shocking “increase of 40%” in threat-based scams, compared to 2020, with over “18,000 reports of these scams” being filed during the same time frame.

‘Threat Based Scams’ occur when an unwitting victim receives either a fraudulent phone call, text message, and/or email purporting to be an official calling from a government office, bank, and/or insurance company. The scams are primarily concluded by telephone calls from the supposed ‘official’ to the victim who believes that they are dealing with a legitimate government agency and/or corporate institution. The victim then pays fees that are supposedly ‘owed’ to the respective agency or institution. According to Brian De Klerk, CRM Director for scamhelp.net, some of the most common cases of these ‘Threat Based Scams’ occurring in Australia included, “several of our clients who reported recently that they had been scammed by issuing payments to what they thought was the Australian Taxation Office”.

The typical approach made by a scammer to a targeted victim will be an initial phone call followed by an email that has a fraudulent ‘Demand for Payment’ for unpaid taxes and fines (tax scam). The unsuspecting person, who wants to abide by the law, cooperates with the scammer and in most cases divulges personal and financial information in addition to paying supposed unpaid taxes and fines. Brian De Klerk noted that “most victims unknowingly send payments via bank transfers and credit card and in some cases don’t know they have been scammed for weeks or even months.” Mr. De Klerk said that the common amounts being scammed range anywhere from “$50 AUD to $3000 AUD” according to scamhelp.net client data.

In addition to scams being committed against innocent Australians demanding payment from the Tax Office, Mr. De Klerk also stated that scamhelp.net recently received client inquiries from two different SME owners who claim that they were both targeted by a scammer who claimed to be from the Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman.” In both these cases, the victims were “easily duped” when the scammer asked them to confirm if they had received any government COVID assistance, and when they both confirmed they had, the scammer told them they had been “overpaid and had to return the funds”.
*Thousands of Australian small business owners have already received financial support from the ‘Coronavirus Small and Medium Enterprises Guarantee’ so the scammer’s question of whether the victim had received any government assistance, in most cases, would be ‘Yes’.

‘Scamwatch’ also reported a substantial increase in ‘Threat Based Scams’ against Australian citizens, students, and residents of Chinese origin. According to ‘Scamwatch’ “These scams target Mandarin-speakers in Australian and impersonate authorities such as the Chinese embassy, police or other government officials”. The language also plays a key role in Scammer’s methodology. Brian De Klerk observed that Scam Help has seen a “spike in Australian scam inquiries from a cross-section of society… and first-generation Australian immigrants are vulnerable because language plays a key role in a Scammer’s methodology. Chinese residents in Australia who do not have full command of the English language are therefore at high risk for threat-based scams”.

It’s highly recommended for Australians to visit www.scamwatch.gov.au and see the resources and information on protecting themselves against on-line scammers available on the site. ‘Scamwatch’ oversees the ‘Scams Awareness Network’ (‘SAN’) in Australia which is “made up of government regulatory agencies and departments in Australia and New Zealand that work alongside the private sector, community and non-government partners to raise awareness about scams and disrupt them.”

The ACCC which operates ‘Scamwatch’ is not, however, a law enforcement agency and “does not give legal advice and is unable to offer assistance in individual cases or to investigate each scam reported”. Victims of online fraud are now being offered fund recovery services from companies that specialize in on-line fraud refunds and chargebacks on behalf of victimized consumers. The newly launched fund recovery firm, scamhlep.net, has at its disposal, “a dedicated team of professional IT forensic analysts, bank fraud specialists and case coordinators with vast working knowledge in online trading scams and other types of fraud. Scam Help assists clients to recover their lost funds and return stolen wealth to its rightful owners”. Since its inception in May 2020, Scam Help, which is owned by Transparent Business Solutions B.V., a Dutch-based company, is one of several emerging Start-Ups in the Netherlands promoting transparency and risk-mitigating factors that make the Netherlands one of the safest countries in the world to do business in.

As Australian’s cope with the COVID pandemic, economic upheaval, and a spate of wildfires over the past three years, on-line scamming increases as people become increasingly financially anxious and are forced to stay at home under government ‘lockdown’ orders. Without the intention of being biased towards the Dutch financial system, I would recommend to any Australian victim of on-line fraud to choose a Dutch company, such as scamhlep.net, to assist them in recovering their funds. This will give them a much safer way and a greater chance of recovering the funds that were shamelessly stolen from them.

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