Aussies have been defrauded of millions of dollars since the start of the Covid-19 outbreak, with Scamwatch reporting a significant escalation in scam operations over the past few months, including phishing for personal information, online shopping, and superannuation scams.

According to the organisation, scammers are impersonating government agencies which provide information on COVID-19 through text messages and emails, all the while 'phishing' for personal information. The communications trypically contain malicious links and attachments designed to steal personal and financial information.

Scamwatch says there have been more than 3,600 such incidents reported in recent months.

Impersonating government agencies

Some of the scams doing the rounds are impersonating 'myGov', Department of Health and the ATO.

Experts have suggested that the online revolution had moved ahead about five years in the space of three months, particularly over lockdown when Aussies were forced to adapt to new ways of 'life online' very quickly to work, school their children, shop and interact with friends and relatives.

And, the fraudsters and scammers found a fantastic opportunity to swoop on people who are not tech savvy or vulnerable. In many cases, the fake emails or text messages purport to be Government agencies and other entities offering help with applications for financial assistance or payments for staying home.

What to watch out for

Some scammers are also pretending to be from real businesses such as banks, travel agents, insurance providers, technology help, and telco companies, and using various excuses around COVID-19 to ask people for personal and financial information as well as getting payment for something you did not purchase, or gain remote access to your computer.

Others are posing as financial advisors offering to assist people accessing their superannuation under the government's Covid-19 early release scheme. Some are attempting to steal access information, and others are simply offering unnecessary services and offering a fee.

People really do need to remain vigilant, and not click links that look suspicious, or if they receive a phone call, then avoid giving away personal details until the caller can be identified as bonafide.

Australian Consumer Law

There are a range of laws which deal with illegal online activity, but the main piece of legislation which covers consumers if they have been scammed or defrauded is the national Australian Consumer Law (ACL) which in 2011 replaced previous Commonwealth, state and territory consumer protection legislation.

The consumer protection provisions under the ACL that are directly relevant to scams include:

  • misleading or deceptive conduct
  • false or misleading representations
  • unconscionable conduct
  • unsolicited supplies
  • pyramid selling

Cybercrime is becoming increasingly common, and is often undertaken on a large-scale basis. Some estimates suggesting that it costs the Australian economy as much as $ 29 billion annually, with those who've been scammed losing on average, $700.

Cyber fraud means accessing restricted information on a computer and using it for personal gain, or to deprive someone of money or property. Cyber fraud, including identity theft, can be big business, and it is an offence that many law enforcement agencies are targeting intensively.

Fraud is a crime

Cybercrime can also be prosecuted under the NSW Criminal Code 1900 Section 92E which essentially deals with fraud, whereby someone acts "deceptively or dishonesty" to obtain some form of property or financial advantage, or to cause another person financial disadvantage.

Scamwatch is warning people to be especially vigilant right now while many of these scams are operating, but they're also calling on people to report anything they think may be suspicious and provide as many relevant details as possible so that complaints and concerns can be followed up, and criminals caught.

Cybercrime is on the increase, and online scams are becoming more sophisticated, and as we spend more time online, interacting with a range of businesses, institutions, retailers and individuals, every transaction has the potential to put us at risk, across multiple tech platforms – desktops, laptops, tablets and phones.

Protect yourself online

The only way to stay protected ourselves is to be alert, and to never give away personal information. Passwords should also be updated regularly, along with security settings and virus software, and remember to be careful about what personal details you post on social media.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.