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SCAM SPOT: Small deeds, big losses

12:00pm December 21 2022

The third episode of Westpac Wire's Scam Spot series warns of the growing number of Australians falling prey to the 'product review scam'. (Thomas Evans)

In the online world, the products or services that perform best tend to be those with the most customer reviews, the most ‘likes’, or those endorsed by social media influencers. So, it’s not surprising that the need for a product to appear popular has spawned a thriving industry of fake product reviews and endorsements.

This, in turn, has generated a new class of scams – and the victims are not those buying the falsely-endorsed products, but those being paid to falsely-endorse them in the first place. This latest scam doing the rounds is known as the "Product Review" or “Task Scam”. 

It’s designed to trick victims with a false promise of payment in exchange for completing an easy task, such as reviewing or endorsing the product to your followers, clicking on a star rating, watching a video, liking a post, or creating an order.

Last year this scam made the rounds through an app called “Hope” and it trapped thousands of Australians. The scam has returned; now victims are likely to hear about the opportunity through a message sent via WhatsApp or Telegram – and can read more about the tasks by visiting an app or a website.

On the surface, it seems to be an easy and safe way to earn extra cash in your spare time – getting a small payment for each small task you complete.

But there’s a catch. After you sign up, you’re likely to be feeling pretty good. You do a few tasks, and the scammer pays you commissions to gain your trust.

Then, when you reach a certain number of tasks, you’ll likely be told you need to upgrade your account, and to do so you’ll need to pay a fee. 

This can be tempting if you’ve already received some money. The claim is that if you put in your own money, it will be returned with a commission when you reach the next “level” of tasks.

To earn more money, you need to keep depositing more of your own. This is a pyramid scheme; the money you deposit will be used to pay the next victim their commission. Because of this, the scammers will likely try to get you to recruit your friends into the scheme as well.

When you decide you want to withdraw your earnings, the money will be gone and the scammer will cut off all contact.

It’s an easy one to fall for, so if you’re unsure, here are a few things to remember:

1. Beware of any organisation that asks you to make a payment to receive a payment in return or to unlock earnings.

2. Before you sign up to an offer that sounds too good to be true, take a minute to research who you are signing up with. Contact the employer using an independently sourced phone number to check their legitimacy.

3. Finally, beware of any employment opportunities which arrive in your inbox out of the blue.

Above all, remember: when an opportunity looks like an easy way to earn some extra cash, ask yourself if it's really a job – it could save you a world of trouble.

Ben Young is Westpac’s Head of Fraud and Financial Crime Insights. Ben’s team researches and operates Westpac’s key fraud protection processes for the ~25 million transactions processed each day by the bank, particularly around credit cards, internet banking, branch and applications for credit. Ben has been intimately involved in Westpac’s fraud processes since 2007 and has worked in various data led risk processes since 1997.

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