Protecting yourself from online scams

How to avoid being scammed 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 a scam online.

How to protect your information online

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 and keep operating systems up to date

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 protecting your computer from viruses:

  • Make sure you have good security software (anti-virus, anti-spyware and a firewall) and you 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 and seek advice from your internet provider if you're not sure how to do this.
  • 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.

Protect your personal information

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

Here are a few suggestions that can help keep your private information safe:

  • Activate privacy settings on social media sites and keep up to date with privacy changes.
  • 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.
  • Never give an unsolicited caller access to your computer.

Unfortunately, it has become very easy for people 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 national identity and cyber support service.

Think before you shop or send money 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 help you stay safe online:

  • Only deal with reputable online institutions.
  • If you have not dealt with a business before, search online 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 remember that, if an offer seems too good to be true, it probably is.

For more useful tips, visit our page on online shopping

Online scams to look out for

Watch out for unusual emails

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

Keep these things in mind when checking your emails:

  • Don't open attachments or links from people you don't know. If you don't know who sent the email, just delete it.
  • Scan email attachments with security software before opening them.
  • Legitimate companies, websites and government departments will never 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 or any contact details on online forums.

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

Beware of threatening emails

Scammers might pretend to be from a well-known organisation or government department and try to scare you into parting with your personal information or money. They may threaten you with a fine, or say they will disconnect your internet, take you to court, arrest or even deport you.

Don't be pressured by a threatening email. Instead, check whether their story is real by contacting the organisation using details you obtain through an independent source, like a phone book or online search. Do not use the contact details they include in their email.

Avoid social media scams

Scammers use social media to access personal accounts and information, and to lure unsuspecting victims into parting with their money.

Here are a few things to keep in mind to protect yourself when you're on social media:

  • Be wary of random or unexpected contact, particularly if you have replied to something on a website or social media platform.
  • Do not accept messages or friend requests from someone you don't know.
  • If you are contacted out of the blue, don't respond to requests for personal details, banking or credit card details or money from people you don't know or trust.
  • Be cautious of fake social accounts pretending to be a legitimate company - always check that the page name or handle is the genuine account.
  • Beware of entering competitions online where you have to provide personal information.
  • Be wary when clicking on advertisements about banking, finances or investments.
  • As an extra precaution, delete or remove ads for financial products from your social feed.

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 online scams.

Here are some tips that can help keep your kids out of trouble when they're 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 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. They have great information on how to check the security of online games.

What to do if you've been scammed online

Think you have been scammed? Our report a scam webpage tells you which government agencies deal with different types 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 2018