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Australians lose $7.2m to computer-takeover scams in 2021

Juliet Helmke
15 July 2021 1 minute readShare
computer-takeover scams

In the first six months of 2021 alone, Australians have lost a combined $7.2 million due to computer-takeover scams, a new report from the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has revealed.

This figure is up by 184 per cent over the same period last year, with close to 6,500 independent reports of scammers trying to convince people to download software that would provide access to personal computers and bank accounts.

With such an alarming rise, consumer advocates are trying to spread awareness about what to watch out for, and noting that victims are not confined to one demographic.

“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,” ACCC deputy chair Delia Rickard said.

Known as remote access scams, they most commonly start with a phone call informing a target that they’ve been billed for a purchase they didn’t make, that their device has been compromised, or their account has been hacked. But scammers also instigate these conversations via SMS, email or an internet browser pop-up. 

They will generally be impersonating a representative from a well-known organisation, with Telstra and NBN being the most frequently used fronts. Consumers lost a reported $2.4 million to scammers claiming to be from Telstra and NBN this year alone, but since 2020, cons imitating Amazon and eBay customer support have also become more frequent. 

Other targeted organisations include banks, government organisations, police, and computer and IT support organisations. Most instances make use of remote-control software such as AnyDesk or TeamViewer to gain access over a person’s computer.

“If you receive contact from someone claiming to be from a telecommunications company, a technical support service provider or online marketplace, hang up,” Ms Rickard said. She noted that if you believe the communication could be legitimate, the best way forward is to independently find the organisation’s contact details and get in touch with them.

“Don’t use the contact details in the communication,” she said. “Also, don’t click on any of the links.”

Ms Rickard delivered a warning heard often from financial institutions across Australia and internationally, but that, unfortunately, bears repeating: “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.”

Australians lose $7.2m to computer-takeover scams in 2021
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Juliet Helmke

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