08 June 2016

Gone Phishing: Don’t get hooked

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“Congratulations Claire, you are pre-approved for 1000$ 100% accepted?????”

The latest addition to my junk folder didn’t entice me to reply but online scams are not always so easy to spot.

Sharon Armstrong from New Zealand was 54 years old and had been looking for love online for a month when she found him. “I fell hard and fast. We built up what felt like a very long relationship over a short period of time,” Sharon said in an interview on news.com.au.

For five and a half months Sharon was groomed with more than 7000 emails and a series of tests to determine if she could be trusted, but he always found an excuse to avoid Skyping.

He told Sharon he was a civil engineer and that she could be his EA. “I’ve secured this very lucrative contract for a job. Would you be keen to travel to South America to pick up the contract to bring it to me in London?” He asked.

Thinking she was being cautious, Sharon googled the company and verified its authenticity. In Buenos Aires the suitcase was delivered to her hotel.

She soon found herself in an Argentinian prison with 60-70 other women who had been convicted of smuggling drugs. Sharon spent 2.5 years here.

Whilst the majority of us will never find ourselves in Sharon’s situation, Australia could stand to be more sceptical.

Last year, Australians lost nearly $230 million to scams in 2015, $54 million of which was to romance fraud, according to the ACCC.

Delia Rickard, Deputy Chair of the ACCC, said people can lose over $100,000 in life-destroying swindles, “They're very patient, they'll spend weeks, months, we know of cases of years, romancing you, they'll contact you every day. And when they're completely confident that they've got your trust, your love, they will spin you a story about why they need money.”

While I can’t help you love, I can help you avoid falling victim to online scams. Here are five things to keep in mind the next time you log on:

Give to charities you know

In the aftermath of disasters, charities seem to spring up overnight. Give to established charities you are aware of.

Too good to be true? It is.

If you’re being offered thousands of dollars requiring very little input, high-return investments, or being offered $1000 outright like my email above, it’s probably not real. Stop kidding yourself.

Never wire money or deposit a check

Wired money is almost impossible to reverse or trace and scam artists know this. No matter how convincing their story is, stick to your guns. You’re responsible for the checks you deposit and, if a check is invalid, you’re responsible for paying back the bank.

Don’t respond to pleas for funds

I was 14 years old and had just discovered the joys of instant messaging and email. When I received an email from a young girl in Cuba telling me about her family living in poverty, I was very concerned. It didn’t occur to me to ask how she sent me the email in the first place. No matter how tiny the violin is that they’re playing, be resilient and realistic.

Spot imposters

Scammers often pretend to be an organisation or individuals you trust. At least once a week I receive an email telling me that my Paypal account has been compromised. Don’t reply to the email, log onto the website instead. My Paypal account has been fine 99% of the time- only once was it used to buy an Xbox game in the US.

As we migrate to digital platforms, it becomes increasingly necessary to be security savvy. If you’d like to learn how to ensure your data security and risk mitigation strategies, attend Akolade’s upcoming The Future of Public Sector of Digitisation forum.


Learn in sessions such as ‘Governments and corporate and investigations: unravelling hidden secrets in Forensic IT’ and ‘disaster recovery strategies’. See you there!

Claire Dowler is a Conference Producer with Akolade. She recently graduated with a double degree: a Bachelor of Journalism and a Bachelor of Media and Communications Studies majoring in International Communication. Claire minored in sarcasm and puns.

A ballroom-dancer who collects salt and pepper shakers and volunteers for animal rescue, you might say Claire has eclectic interests.

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