Protecting yourself from online scams

How to stay safe online

Here are our tips on protecting yourself from online scams and reducing your cyber risk. We also explain what you can do if you have been the victim of an internet scam.

Use strong passwords

Creating and using passwords is a part of doing almost anything online. Passwords protect your personal information, so it is important to create strong passwords and change them regularly.

Here are some tips on creating and using passwords:

  • Don't tell anyone your passwords - a legitimate business or company should never ask you for your password, so never share this information via email or over the phone.
  • 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.
  • Use different passwords to access different online accounts.
  • Don't allow your computer to save your passwords.
  • Don't store passwords in a file on your computer.

Use anti-virus programs

Anti-virus programs help protect you against computer viruses. Computer viruses (also called worms or Trojan horses) can access personal information, infect your computer and delete files or even use your computer to attack other computers.

The best way to avoid viruses is to use common sense and avoid suspicious websites. Don't download files from unknown sources or click links from people you don't know. You will also need a good anti-virus program as a back up to protect your computer.

Here are some things to consider when it comes to anti-virus protection:

  • Make sure you have good security software (anti-virus, anti-spyware and a firewall) and you keep it up to date.
  • Ensure you turn on automatic updates for the operating system (e.g. Windows) and update all other software programs when updates are available through their official websites.
  • Make sure your wireless network is encrypted and seek advice from your internet provider if you are unsure how to do this.
  • Turn off your computer or disconnect it from the internet when you are not using it.
  • Scan devices such as USBs or external hard drives for viruses, before opening them on your computer.

Watch out for unusual emails

Email scams are a cheap, easy and efficient way for criminals to attempt contact with people and gather personal information or financial details from them.

Keep these things in mind when checking your emails:

  • Don't open attachments from people you don't know. If you don't know who sent the email just delete it.
  • Stop and think before clicking on any hyperlinks or attachments.
  • Scan email attachments with security software before opening them.
  • Legitimate companies and websites will not ask you to confirm personal details or passwords via email, so do not reply to emails requesting this sort of information.
  • Beware of emails that don't address you by name.
  • Never post your email address on online forums.

For more information on these sorts of scams, take a look at our page on requests for account information.

Think before you act online

Taking a minute to think about what you are about to do can be really useful when it comes to shopping or dealing with money online.

Here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Only deal with reputable online institutions.
  • If you have not dealt with a business before, do an online search to check recommendations and feedback from other customers.
  • Never send cash overseas or to people you have never met. Use payment methods with in-built protections such as credit cards and secure online payment facilities.
  • Be aware of counterfeit items and if something seems too good to be true, it probably is.

For more useful tips, visit our page on online shopping.

Video: Online selling scams

Video about online selling scams

Stevie, a reformed scammer, explains how online selling scams work and how to avoid them. This video was produced by Consumer Affairs Victoria as part of the Stevie's Scam School series.

Our avoiding scams webpage explains how to stay one step ahead of the scammers.

Transcript: Online selling scams

Protect your personal information

Your personal information is valuable and you need to take precautions to protect it when you are online, especially if you are using social media sites.

Here are a few suggestions that can help ensure the safety of your private information:

  • Activate privacy settings when using social networking sites.
  • Never reveal details that might identify you, such as your full name, date of birth, addresses, tax file number or contact numbers.
  • Don't post anything you wouldn't want a stranger to know or find out about.
  • Information posted online can be easily stored and archived, so keep in mind that anything you post is never really completely deleted.

Unfortunately, it has become very easy for someone to steal your personal details and carry out illegal activities in your name. For more information read our page on identify theft.

For more information on how to reduce the risk and impact of identity fraud, visit iDcare a free government-industry support service.

Know what your kids are doing online

As well as keeping yourself safe online, it is also important that you know what your kids are doing online, as they can also become victims of an online scam.
Here are some tips that can help keep your kids out of trouble when they are online.

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

See the Department of Communications' Cybersafety help website for more ways to help your kids stay safe online. They have great information on how to check the security of online games.

Video: Kate gets scammed

Kate gets scammed video

Kate learns that not all sites can be trusted. Watch this video to see how Kate learns to recognise friendly websites.

Transcript: Kate gets scammed

What should you do if you think you have been scammed?

Think you have been scammed? Our report a scam webpage tells you which Government agencies deal with which type of scams.

For tips on what to do if you have lost money see our phishing webpage

Be aware of the risks of online scams and always protect your personal information.


Related links


Last updated: 08 Oct 2015