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SCAM SPOT: Everyday tasks are fertile ground for scammers

09:00am April 17 2024

Has your internet connection been playing up lately? Have you got a parcel that you're waiting for? Have you driven your car on a toll road recently? These little life moments are a regular occurrence for almost all of us, and scammers know it. 

They rely on how commonplace these things are and can lure you into trivial actions that can have far from trivial consequences.

In 2023, the ACCC received 20,000 reports from people targeted by road toll scams. 

An SMS request for an unpaid road toll of $6 may seem like a small transaction to avoid paying a much larger fine and a lot of hassle, but when the request comes with a sense of urgency, that should be a red flag. An unfamiliar web link they give you to make the payment is a second red flag that this is a scam.

Clicking on that link will probably direct you to a fake website that will look like a genuine toll operator. It will ask you to provide your credit or debit card number, expiry date, and CVC code. The website will then ask for an SMS code as well, which will arrive on your phone. 

That’s a real code from your actual bank and the reason a message has arrived is because behind the scenes the fraudsters have taken the card details and are using them to perform a very different transaction.

More commonly, they’ll be enrolling your card details into a digital wallet on another phone. Many people get security text messages like this and copy the code across without reading the rest of the message. If you read the message, you'll see red flag number three. It will be very clear that the code is for a different purpose and entering the code will allow scammers to start spending big on your card.

Hopefully, the bank will spot any unusual transactions and decline them, but this is never perfect. The best course of action is not to give the scammer access to your card information in the first place. 

Here are some tips to avoid falling for the trap. 

1. Never make payments in a hurry. Any approach with a great sense of urgency should be treated with the utmost suspicion.

2. Avoid clicking links. Go to a business' website directly and search for any outstanding fees there. 

3. Read the message before inputting the SMS code. This is the secret to these scams - they know you won't read the message. 

4. Don't trust the sender's name or number on any SMS.  The message might seem legitimate because scammers can use technology to spoof the number or name displayed on an SMS, so it looks legitimate. The fact that your phone slides the messages directly below previous messages from the same company does not mean it came from the same place. 

5. Always use a dynamic CVC code if your bank offers one. For Westpac, this code changes every 24 hours, which dramatically reduces the risk of misuse even if intercepted. 

6. Turn on push notifications for all spending. This way, you’ll be notified instantly of money being spent on your card by a fraudster or a family member. 

Remember, not every scam is about an opportunity of a lifetime. Some of them deliberately try to blend in with your everyday experiences. Being aware of these risks and spending in the safest way possible can 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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