Adam Turner
Technology Journalist

Adam Turner is a Sydney Morning Herald senior technology columnist who has been writing about the challenges facing Australian business for more than a decade

Adam Turner
Technology Journalist

Adam Turner is a Sydney Morning Herald senior technology columnist who has been writing about the challenges facing Australian business for more than a decade

The competition watchdog is warning that it expects a spike in telephone and online fraud activity over the holiday season as scammers try to cash in on the Christmas spirit.

Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) deputy chair, Delia Rickard, said that last holiday season the regulator received hundreds of complaints relating to hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of financial losses and that it was vigorously warning consumers to be vigilant this year. 

The ACCC said that consumers should be particularly wary of fraudulent emails and phone calls about parcel collections as scammers tailor their schemes to the gift giving period.

Scam Email Criminal

The postman doesn’t ring twice

“The number one thing I would focus on for the holiday season is parcel scams because there’s some really nasty ones around at the moment,” says Delia.

Scams tend to take one of two forms. In the first, victims may receive a call from someone purporting to be from a reputable postal service and claiming that they failed to deliver a parcel to them. The scammers will then seek a fee to redeliver it.

“We know that at Christmas time people think it must be a present and get all excited but, in fact, it’s a scam,” she said.

The second major form of the scam is a phishing email appearing to be from a reputable postal supplier but contains a web link to a malware site. When the user visits the site their computer is infected with so-called ‘ransomware’ which locks their files. The scammers then demand a fee to unlock the files.

Teresa Corbin, chief executive of the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN) said holiday periods were particularly problematic as they expand the potential pool of victims.

Ordinarily, she explained, scams would touch small business owners and older consumers that spend more time at home.

“Of course, at holiday time more people are at home during the day to take calls. Scammers are aware of that so you do hear of more [scam] reports,” says Teresa.

Be vigilant online around christmas

Daniel Kardane, product specialist with anti-virus software maker Kaspersky Lab, said that scam operators often tailored their activity toward online shopping during the Christmas season.

“It’s a very common thing this time of year because online shopping has grown a large amount recently and a lot of customers are Christmas shopping online,” says Daniel.

Again, scammers create fraudulent spam email carrying branding from a reputable and well-known online shopping service in an attempt to induce victims to download malware or divulge information that could be used to compromise them financially.

Consumers may also be particularly vulnerable to travel scams, which have become more common during the past year, the ACCC has warned.

Don’t open your door to identity fraud

The major one that the regulator has been monitoring exploits two major airline brands. The scammers contact potential victims by phone asking them to claim travel credits that they’ve won as a reward for recent travel. They then advise the victim that they need to reveal credit card details and personal information to claim the reward.

“It’s a classic identity fraud,” says Delia. There are no travel credits, “What in fact happens is that money goes out of your wallet … we’ve had a huge number of complaints on that scam”.

The ACCC also recommend that consumers take extra steps when dealing with charities soliciting money at this time of year. “If you want to give money to charity, do a Google search and get their proper website or go to the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission. They have links to all registered charities,” says Delia.

She said that the season may also lead to a rise in scams exploiting major bank brands. In this case, scammers may call victims claiming that they need to rectify unauthorised transactions on their account in an attempt to commit identity fraud. “If you get one of those calls, hang up and contact your bank through their official numbers,” she advised.

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