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Top 3 Australian financial scams of 2013

Phishing emails, fake websites and bogus phone calls were big throughout 2013
Top 3 Australian financial scams of 2013

As the year winds down, it’s time to look back at some of the financial scams that targeted Australians in 2013.

These ranged from phishing emails designed to harvest people’s bank account details to fake online shopping websites. While none of the scams are particularly new, cyber criminals took advantage of people who were looking for a genuine bargain or were worried that their bank account had been compromised.

IDC Australia senior market analyst Vern Hue said victims are sometimes taken in because of the prospect of financial gain. “You believe so much that you deserve a break and when such luck befalls you, it's in your nature to jump at it,” he said. “These scams are designed to manipulate our emotions.”

Shop until you drop

Coming in at place number three is online shopping scams, in particular ones that offer concert tickets or big discounts on expensive items.

For criminals, this method can bring rich pickings. An estimated 500,000 Australians aged between 18 and 64 were scammed when buying tickets online in the past year, according to a survey released in August by ticket marketplace viagogo.

Consumers reported that tickets either did not turn up or were for the wrong seat. Eighty-one per cent of those scammed bought their tickets from eBay or Gumtree.

Some criminals targeted specific states or territories of Australia with their shopping scams. For example, consumers in Western Australia complained to consumer watchdog WA ScamNet after they had not received electronic goods ordered online from eight different websites. The items included iPads, iPhones and a camera which were below market prices. Consumers spent a total of $7000 on goods.

At the time, a WA ScamNet spokesperson said that consumers should be wary if an online retailer offered goods well below market prices and didn’t accept payment by credit card or PayPal.

Phoning it in

At place number two is phone scams due to the sheer variety of calls targeting individuals and businesses in Australia this year. The Windows Event Viewer scam, which Computerworld Australia first investigated in 2009, re-emerged during July.

The scam involves overseas telemarketers requesting the recipient's authority to run a Windows program by the same name in order to fix bugs in the operating system. Other callers claim they can remove the virus for a fee and ask for people's credit card details.

A variation on Event Viewer targeted Commonwealth Bank of Australia (CBA) customers in August. Callers, claiming to be from CBA, said the customer's computer had been hacked. The caller claimed that they needed to install TeamViewer remote access software on PCs in order to run a scan.

The scammers also tried to convince CBA customers to purchase anti-virus software to remove the infection.

National Australia Bank (NAB) customers were next on the scammer hit list during September. Customers received calls that claimed they had been overcharged on fees and were due a refund. They were then asked to provide their bank account details so the refund could be transferred.

"A bank will never ask for your full credit card details over the phone, and NAB advises all of our customers to be aware of the practical steps they can take for their personal and business security," a spokesperson said at the time.

You’ve got mail

Taking out place number one is email scams, one of the most widely used methods of targeting Australians this year.

A combined email with a listed phone number emerged and was dubbed 'Callware' by Kaspersky Labs security researchers.

The email, which was sent to some ANZ Bank customers, claimed access to their account had been restricted. Recipients were asked to call a Sydney-based phone number included in the email to restore account access.

While most scam emails used the logos of banks such as Westpac and NAB, other high profile companies had their names used.

Concerned customers contacted utility firm EnergyAustralia about emails which claimed that their electricity payment had been declined. The email requested customers to click on a website link, stating that if they did not click the link within 15 days their phone line would be cancelled.

Airline customers were not immune from the attentions of scammers either. In August, Qantas warned customers to be wary of a fake e-ticket itinerary and receipt email. According to the airline, the email was easy to spot because it contained a zip file attachment with a potentially malicious payload.

Follow Hamish Barwick on Twitter: @HamishBarwick

Follow Computerworld Australia on Twitter: @ComputerworldAU, or take part in the Computerworld conversation on LinkedIn: Computerworld Australia

More about: ANZ, CBA, Commonwealth Bank, eBay, IDC, Kaspersky, NAB, National Australia Bank, PayPal, Qantas, Westpac, Westpac
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