As the year winds down, it’s time to look back at some of the financial scams that targeted Australians in 2014.
These ranged from phishing emails which claimed to be from government departments to phone calls telling people they had won a travel prize. While none of the scams are particularly new, criminals took advantage of people who were worried that they owed money or who were simply looking for a cheap holiday.
You’ve got spam
Email scams were once again one of the most widely used methods of targeting Australians with several companies finding their names and logos used by scammers.
In August 2014, Australia Post warned customers not to open a scam email that claimed a courier could not deliver a parcel to their address.
According to the postal service, the email, which included Australia Post's logo, asked the customer to view/print information about their parcel and to go to their local post office to collect it.
“Australia Post does not request customers to send payment for parcel collection nor do we charge customers for holding a parcel,” said an Australia Post spokesperson at the time. “If you receive this email, please delete it.”
Some criminals took the extra step of targeting Australians living in a specific state.
In November 2014, New South Wales residents complained that they were receiving emails claiming to be from the NSW Office of State Revenue (OSR) or State Debt Recovery Office (SDRO) which demanded payment for speeding or other traffic infringements.
However, neither the OSR nor SDRO issue fines and penalty notices via email.
According to OSR Commissioner of Fines Administration, Tony Newbury, an analysis of the emails suggested that the scammers are based in Denmark and Russia.
"This is a very sophisticated attack and while the scam emails and prompts may look genuine, they are 100 per cent fake and I urge people not to pay these fraudulent fines,” he said at the time.
Utility companies were also targeted by scammers looking to make money out of unsuspecting customers.
In June 2014, utility provider EnergyAustralia warned customers about an email phishing scam that claimed to contain a link to their electricity or gas bill.
The email, which was addressed to `Dear Valued Customer’, asked the customer to click on a link to view their bill. The link took people to a website address that was not operated by EnergyAustralia where they were at risk of having their PR infected with malware.
The omnipresent scams ostensibly sent from outside of Australia, particularly from Africa, continued with scammers claiming they had access to millions of United States dollars and that they would share it with recipients, for a fee of course.
In December 2014, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) sent out 1500 letters to people in New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory in an attempt to stop them sending more money to scammers overseas.
The project, which began in August 2014, uses financial intelligence to identify Australians sending funds to West African nations. The ACCC letters tell people that they may have been targeted by a scam.
Approximately 60 per cent of people who received the warning letters stopped sending money overseas for at least a 6 week period, said ACCC deputy chair Delia Rickard.
“While there is no guarantee that all of the people sent a letter will be a scam victim, there are very real questions about why people should be sending funds to these high risk jurisdictions [in West Africa]. Funds transfers from the people we wrote to total over $9 million,” she said in a statement.