Get Sorted: Spot that scam
Here’s why we all need to look out for each other and those money traps out there. Photo / 123RF
Are there bullseyes on our backs? Just three weeks ago one of the team at Sorted had their bank account drained in a “phishing” expedition, to the tune of $14,000! Scammers send millions of phony hyperlink “hooks” out via text or email in the hope that someone unwittingly will get caught out – and she was one.
“Clicking on a link now is like going into a dark street or dark alley to get somewhere,” she says.
It’s Fraud Awareness Week, here and around the globe. A week like this is part of the solution: looking out for each other as we navigate the everyday world, especially our messages, inboxes and as we surf online.
Scams these days are more sophisticated than ever, highly engineered to line fraudsters’ pockets here or overseas. Official-looking emails, texts and entire websites can end up just being a front to con us.
If we take the bait, we’re on the hook for our personal data, hard-earned cash or other digital property – credit card details, scans of our driving licence or passport – that can be traded online.
In this case, it was the lure of an email touting a new app from her bank, complete with all the usual branding and secure password loop that she expected.
When she compared the messages afterwards, only a single word was different between the bank’s usual message and the phisher’s.
Because these scams use everyday hyperlinks, spam blockers are no use in filtering them out. There are typically no viruses or malware in the emails or texts that carry them. Indeed, there’s little difference to a spam blocker between a phisher’s emails and our own email signatures these days. So some are always bound to get through.
Her bank informed her that three withdrawals had gone out within the space of an hour – $10,000, then $2,000 and another $2,000.
“I went into a state of shock and went, ‘What?!'” she says. Her partner was fuming.
Here are eight warning signs to watch for with scams in general.
• You get contacted unexpectedly. The message may be overly familiar or friendly.
• The offer is good to be true. This may be a prize or an investment opportunity that promises high returns with low risk.
• You need to pay up-front to get the deal.
• You get asked for account, credit card or personal details.
• There’s little or no information in writing.
• They have vague contact details, like a mobile number only or a PO box number.
• They ask you to make a quick decision.
• They tell you the offer has to be kept secret.
Investment scams are especially dangerous, since they target those with a lot to lose – like savers who have built up a nest egg over their careers that may need to fund their next 30 years. The Financial Markets Authority has key steps to take to protect yourself before you invest.
In the case of the drained $14,000, thankfully the story has a happy ending.
The bank, detecting something suspicious about that first $10,000 withdrawal, set aside the funds in a holding account instead of finalising the transaction. Indeed, if the scammer had not been so greedy, they may well have got away with a smaller amount.
“We got lucky,” she says. “We would’ve lost the funds.”
Stay vigilant out there!