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Monday, 12 July 2021 10:22

Computer takeover scams on the rise, warns ACCC Featured

By Staff Writer

Scammers have stolen more than $7.2 million from Australians so far this year by gaining access to home computers, an increase of 184% compared to the same period last year.

According to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s latest Scamwatch report, almost 6,500 Australians have reported phone calls from scammers trying to convince them to download software that gives access to home computers and their bank accounts. 

Commonly called remote access scams, scammers pretend to be from well-known organisations such as Telstra, eBay, NBN Co, Amazon, banks, government organisations, police, and computer and IT support organisations - creating a sense of urgency to make you give them access to your computer via remote access software.

“Remote access scams are one of the largest growing scam types in Australia. Scammers take advantage of the digital world and the fear of fraud and cybercrime to access people’s devices and steal their money,” ACCC Deputy Chair Delia Rickard said.

“These types of scams target and impact all people and can be convincing. People aged 55 and older lost over $4.4 million, accounting for almost half of total losses. Young people reported losing on average $20,000 and eight Indigenous Australians, some in remote communities, lost a total of $38,000.”

Rickard notes that scams of this nature will often be an unexpected phone call saying you’ve been billed for a purchase you didn’t make, your device has been compromised, or your account has been hacked - and sometimes they start with an SMS, email or pop up on a screen from a scammer seeking urgent contact to fix a problem.

The ACCC says that the scammer will pretend to assist you or ask you to assist them to catch the scammer. They will tell you to download remote control software such as AnyDesk or TeamViewer. Once the scammer has control of your computer or device, they will ask you to log into applications such as emails, internet banking or PayPal accounts, which will allow the scammer to access your banking and personal information to impersonate you or steal their money.

While remote access tools have been around for years to help IT support personnel in their work, scammers are also taking advantage of the ability to remotely access people’s computers or smart phones.

“It is really important not to let anyone who contacts you out of the blue access your devices, as once you give them access, you have no way of knowing what the person will do to your computer or what programs they may install,” Rickard said.

“If you receive contact from someone claiming to be from a telecommunications company, a technical support service provider or online marketplace, hang up. If you think the communication may have been legitimate, independently source the contact details for the organisation to contact them. Don’t use the contact details in the communication.  Also, don’t click on any of the links.

“Remember, your bank will never ask you to give them access to your computer or accounts, nor will they ask for the codes to verify transactions. You should never provide those numbers to anyone except to verify transactions you are making in your mobile banking app or through your online banking,” Rickard warned.

The ACCC says it is working with the private sector to disrupt these scams including by sharing information with telecommunications carriers about the phone numbers used to call Australians so they can trace and block calls. 

“People who think they may have been scammed should contact their bank or financial institution as soon as possible. If they installed any apps or programs, they should also delete them from the device. Support in recovering from these scams including how to check if your identity and computer is secure is available through IDCARE on 1800 595 160 or www.idcare.org(link is external),” the ACCC advised.

The ACCC reports that the most commonly impersonated organisations in 2021 were:

  • Telstra with 1730 reports and reported losses of $1.95 million, and
  • NBN Co with 1023 reports and reported losses of $477,980.

New organisations being impersonated since late 2020 were:

  • Amazon with 801 reports and losses of $1,240,288, and
  • eBay with 230 reports and losses of $149,087
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