Protect yourself from scams

How to avoid being scammed

Scammers know all kinds of tricks to convince you they are genuine and get you to hand over your money. Here we explain the tricks to watch out for and how to protect yourself from scams.

Know the tricks scammers use

Scammers can trick you behind the scenes by hacking your computer or mobile device, or they can actively approach you online, by phone or email. Here are some ways scammers try to reel you in.

  • Pressure you into making a decision - They will use the terms 'last chance' or 'limited offer' to make you act fast. They don't want to give you time to check if their offer is real before you commit to it, and want you to commit to it early so you feel like you can't back out.
  • Become your friend - By developing a friendly relationship with you, scammers know you're more likely to listen to them and go along with something they suggest.
  • Threaten you - They will pretend to be from a well-known organisation or government department and try to scare you into giving them your personal information or money. They may threaten you with a fine, or say they'll disconnect your internet, take you to court, arrest or even deport you.
  • Claim to be professionals - Scammers will say they are approved or associated with another reputable organisation or government agency, or might claim to be a professional broker, portfolio manager, or investment dealer. Even if they look and sound professional, they are working to a carefully crafted script.
  • Persistent phone calls, text messages, or emails - Scammers often approach a large number of people this way, in the hope of receiving a response. Once you respond, they will be persistent in contacting you and promising you wealth or opportunities lost if you don't take up their offer.
  • Fake websites and emails - Many scammers create professional-looking websites to prove to you that their product is real and worth the money they want you to pay. They can also send links to these websites in fraudulent emails which look like they're from your bank or another business you may deal with.
  • Fake social media profiles - Some scammers create fake profiles and send you a friend request or message. If you respond, they then send you offers to make quick money or invest, or ask for money to help them with trouble they are having. They could also gain access to your personal information and steal your identity.

Protect your personal information

Here are some practical ways to protect yourself online and stay one step ahead of the scammers:

  • Do not share your personal, banking or credit card information with people you don't know or trust, and never give them access to your computer.
  • Check your bank and credit card statements every month for suspicious activity.
  • Before you throw out personal documents, destroy them first by either shredding or ripping them up.
  • Beware of entering competitions online where you must provide personal information.
  • Activate privacy settings on social media sites and be careful what you post online, as information can be easily stored and archived, even if you delete it.
  • Never share your PIN codes used for banking or your devices.

See identity fraud for more ways to protect your personal information.

Use strong passwords

Passwords protect your personal information, so it is important to make them strong and change them regularly. Here are some tips on creating and using passwords:

  • Good passwords should have a combination of at least eight characters and include letters (upper case and lower case), numbers and symbols e.g. sDke$5!2.
  • Don't tell anyone your passwords - a legitimate business or company should never ask you for your password.
  • Use different passwords to access different online accounts, and make them difficult for others to work out.
  • Don't allow your computer to save your passwords, and don't store them in a file on your computer.

Secure your computer and mobile device

Online viruses (also called worms or Trojan horses) can access personal information, infect your computer or mobile device and delete files. They can even use your computer to attack other computers. Here are some things to consider to protect yourself against these threats:

  • Make sure you have good security software (anti-virus, anti-spyware and a firewall) and keep it up to date.
  • Turn on automatic updates for the operating system (e.g. Windows) and update all other applications and software programs when updates are available through their official websites.
  • Make sure your wireless network is encrypted. If you're not sure how to do this, seek advice from your internet provider.
  • Turn off your computer or disconnect it from the internet when you're not using it.
  • Scan devices such as USBs or external hard drives for viruses, before opening them.
  • Delete and do not open any unsolicited or suspicious emails you receive. If you've already opened them, don't click on any links or open any attachments in these emails.
  • Do not accept messages or friend requests from people you don't know.
  • Be wary of clicking on advertisements about banking, finances or investments in your social feed.
  • If you use public computers (e.g. in libraries), never save your passwords to them.
  • Be cautious of installing third party applications onto your phone - they can be used by scammers to steal account details.

Think before you shop or send money online

When shopping online, make sure you only buy from reputable companies. Use payment methods with in-built protections such as credit cards and secure online payment facilities.

If you haven't dealt with a business before, search online to check recommendations and feedback from other customers. Be aware of counterfeit items and remember that, if an offer seems too good to be true, it probably is. For more useful tips, see online shopping.

Never send cash overseas or to people you have never met, as this could be a scam. SCAMWatch has information about the different types of scams that may try to get you to send them money.

Protecting your kids online

Your kids can also fall victim to scams, so here are some tips to help keep them out of trouble when they're online:

  • Set up your computer in a communal area of the home.
  • Always supervise your children when they are online.
  • Consider using internet filtering to block certain search terms and websites.
  • Get your kids into the habit of questioning things online and ask them to tell you about any suspicious activity they run into online.

See the Office of the Children's eSafety Commissioner website for more ways to help your kids stay safe online, particularly on how to check the security of online games and apps.

For more information about how to protect yourself and your personal information, visit Stay Smart Online.

Be wary of unexpected telephone calls 

Putting your name on the Do Not Call Register will remove your details from telemarketing phone lists, but, it won't stop scammers from phoning you as they do not follow the rules set by government. 

In 2017, the ACCC's Targeting Scams report revealed that scammers use the phone 40% of the time to trick people. If you receive a phone call out of the blue, be very wary of the caller. They may be impersonating a well-known company or request remote access to your computer to 'stop the scammer'. If this happens, hang up immediately. 

Question offers of easy money

Some scammers will approach you with offers to make easy money, perhaps by investing in their company or product with little to no risk, or by offering you a 'loan'.

To check the legitimacy of someone who makes you an offer, ask them:

  • What is your name and what company do you represent?
  • Who owns your company?
  • What is your address?

If they avoid answering these questions, the deal they are offering you is probably a scam. Hang up the phone, delete and block the email or messages through social media, and stop dealing with the person.

Even if they answer all the above questions, be cautious and trust your instincts. Ask yourself:

  • Are they pressuring me to take up this offer?
  • Does it seem too good to be true?
  • Are they asking for money or anything unusual?
  • Have I done my own research?

Never accept unsolicited offers of credit from unfamiliar lenders and only deal with reputable institutions. If you are contacted by someone after submitting an online loan application, don't assume you know who you are dealing with. Scammers can hack legitimate websites of some smaller lenders to target consumers. See Banking and credit scams for more information.

Do your own research

Always do your own research on a company before you deal with them. Check whether company is real by calling their publicly listed phone number. Don't rely on the information they give you in emails or over the phone - find this information separately (via an internet search or phone book). This is the most important check you should do as scammers can impersonate licensed companies and give you a real company's credit licence number to appear legitimate.

Next, check if they are listed on ASIC's list of companies you should not deal with. If they are not on the list, there are other checks you can do, including checking if they have an Australian financial services (AFS) licence, or if they are on the list of fake international regulators.

If you think it might be a scam, do not deal with them and report them to ASIC.

Protect yourself and your devices from potential scammers. Hang up the phone, delete the email, text, or social media message if you think it looks even vaguely suspicious.


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Last updated: 24 Oct 2018