Cyber safety: Protecting your privacy and your finances

When we think about scams, we may immediately think of the effect as being the loss of money, but there’s also an emotional impact.

According to the ACCC’s Targeting scams report, Australians lost close to half a billion dollars to scammers in 2018 alone. We gave over $86 million to investment scams, followed by dating and romance scams, which represented a loss of $60.5 million. 

People aged 55 to 64 reported losing more money than any other age group with losses of $24.8 million. Women were mostly affected by dating and romance scams, while men were more likely to fall for an investment scam. Despite women reporting more scams, they lost less money than men. 

Scammers rely on building trust in order to dupe targets out of money. They aim to access your information in a variety of ways from phishing emails and text messages, to creating false online stores which take your payment but do not deliver the product. In more complex scams, fraudsters befriend their targets on social media using false profiles with the aim of building trust, and eventually con their victim into providing loans or other personal information. The reality is, there’s a realm of information available on all of us online, and scammers use this to their advantage. 

Those who are targeted will often battle with trust after their experience – whether they can trust their ability to discern right from wrong, or whether they can trust other people to do the right thing. They are often embarrassed and sometimes unwilling to share their story with others. This exacerbates how they are feeling and can trigger more serious responses such as depression and post traumatic stress disorder.

Prevention is the best cure

The best action is prevention, and to be aware of known scams by regularly accessing information which explains current scams, and how to avoid them.

Scams come in many guises, from phone calls (47 percent of scams), email (23 percent), text message (14 percent) and social media (4 percent) – so be alert. Your personal information is priceless, so do all you can to protect it.

Here are a few tips:

1. If you receive a call asking for remote access to your computer, do not give it – even if the caller mentions a well-known company.

2. If a caller from an alleged government agency is pressuring you to make a payment over the phone, do not do what they ask. Find the agency’s phone number and call them directly before taking any action.

3. Similarly, don’t feel pressured to giving away your name, date of birth and address to a caller, even if from a ‘trusted source’ like your bank or utility supplier. Tell the caller you will phone them back, and use the number listed on the company’s website, not a number provided by the caller.

4. If you are interacting with someone who is asking for payment via gift card or cryptocurrency, they aren’t the real deal – a legitimate business will invoice you.

5. Limit the personal information you share online, particularly on social media. Scammers can use this information against you.

6. Use a secure virtual private network (VPN) for your internet time – if you must use a public network, don’t do anything which requires a password.

7. Delete anything which seems suspicious or has popped up without you seeking it, even if it seems harmless.

8. Keep your privacy settings on high – take the time to find the settings and ensure they are enabled.

9. Create complex and unrelated passwords for online activity and change them regularly – make accessing your online world difficult for everyone but yourself.

10. When you buy things online make sure you pay via secure and encrypted sites – at a minimum make sure the website’s URL starts with https not just http.

11. Keep your anti-virus software up to date.

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