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SCAM SPOT: Beware a surprise pay-day

09:30am January 22 2024

The last thing you would expect a scammer to do is give you money, but some enterprising criminals are looking to do exactly that in order to gain your trust.

Many of us have had that feeling of looking at our statements and seeing an unrecognised transaction. It might just be for a purchase you may have forgotten, or a business with a confusing name which doesn't match the store you visited. But sometimes, it really is a fraud.

In most cases these unrecognised transactions will be for a purchase you’ve made, rather than a refund. And when someone pays money into your account, you’re unlikely to see it as fraudulent.

However, giving you money provides a great opportunity for the scammer, because it provides a reason for you to ‘pay them back’.

Once you pay them back, the person becomes a trusted payee for you, which, for many banks, will allow an easier flow of funds in the future.

In many cases, the fraudster may have already hacked into your internet banking. Once you make a small payment to a new payee, they can then jump in to your account and pay much more to themselves.

So if anyone 'accidentally pays you twice' or pays you out of the blue 'by mistake', do not send the money back yourself. Tell the person to approach their bank, report what has happened and this will trigger a formal recall process. Also remember to call your bank, reset your password and check your accounts are safe.

Banks don't tell you which BSB & Account number funds have come from, so in reality, you may not know where the funds have come from anyway.  This applies even if you have had business dealings with that account or person before. They might have been hacked and they are using you as a mule.

Some versions of this scam even involve a fake call from the bank. So even if the person calling and asking you to make the payment says they are from the bank, you should still refuse.  If a payment has been made accidentally into your account, your bank will only contact you for your approval to return the funds, they will not request you make the payment yourself.

Remember, scammers are endlessly creative and will use a range of methods to obscure a scam’s origin to make it feel trustworthy. Any time you send money to anyone, it could be a scam. Taking a moment to backtrack and second guess the circumstances that led up to this payment could save you a whole 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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