Friday, March 13, 2009

Scammers target stimulus payouts

IDENTITY thieves want to steal your life savings, with their latest scam targeting people expecting handouts as part of the Federal Government's stimulus package.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) is warning of an email scam asking people for personal details, aimed at stealing cash handouts being rolled out in March and April.

The Australian Taxation Office (ATO) and Centrelink are preparing to make one-off bonus payments to taxpayers over the coming months as part of the $42bn package announced on February 3.

The latest scam, which emerged days after the Government announced the package, sends bogus emails to your inbox asking for personal information, ACCC deputy chairman Peter Kell says.

"Overall we're seeing a dramatic increase in scam activity,'' Mr Kell said.

"It is in part due to the general growth of online commerce and communication, but it also seems to be related to the current financial downturn which is creating new opportunities for scammers.''

According to the Australian government's Scamwatch website, the emails are disguised as official communication from the ATO or Centrelink.
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They ask people to complete and submit an application to receive the bonus payments.

"They do seem to be hitting a wide range of families,'' Mr Kell says.

Leanne Vale, senior manager of financial crimes with the Association of Building Societies and Credit Unions (ABACUS), says identity thieves can empty your bank accounts with your personal information.

"They will take your life savings, what ever they can get from you,'' Ms Vale says.

"They'll use whatever means they can to get what they want.''

Ms Vale said the scammers rolled out bogus emails in the wake of topical and emotive events such as the Victorian bushfires.

Queensland police received reports of people trying to sell raffle tickets and asking for donations on the Gold and Sunshine coasts.

"Within days of the (stimulus) package being announced, scammers had a phising email designed to get your personal information,'' she says.

"Unfortunately I suspect many people responded to it.''

Mr Kell says the main barrier to compiling information on identity and electronic theft is the embarrassment of the victims.

He says complaints compiled by the ACCC for internet and identity theft scams each year amount to tens of millions, while the Australian Bureau of Statistics puts the figure at $1bn.

While online scams are as old as the internet, the global financial crisis has see people lose confidence in current investment markets, making them more likely to turn to alternate means of investment.

"We see additional offers of easy ways to make money emerging on the web,'' he says.

"An example is the significant spike in what looked like free holidays during 2008 and this summer... but they turned out to be nonexistent in some cases or attempts to sell time share in some cases.''

"Scams can be very sophisticated and clever these days and you shouldn't be embarrassed about coming forward and reporting it.'' suggests you never give personal, credit card or bank details over the phone, in response to unsolicited emails, or enter it on any website without making sure the person, organisation or website you are dealing with is genuine.