Computer Scams

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by Mike Timms

Judging by recent reporting on television and in the daily newspapers, you’d think that nearly everyone in Australia has been affected by some scam or another. However, much of that reporting is ‘media hype’. Sensationalism sells! And if that’s based on anecdotal rumour instead of cold, hard facts, well, as the old media saying goes, ‘don’t let facts get in the way of a good story’

That’s not to say that there are no scams. Far from it: there are plenty of scams out there and we do need to be aware and alert.

But let me go back a bit. For as long as history has been recorded, there have been scams. Back in the 1700s, it was not unknown for people to be murdered so that some ne’er-do-well could take on their identity to hide their own—happily, that’s a pretty rare event these days. Cash fraud has been around ever since cash was invented. There are records of counterfeit notes being printed in China during the thirteenth century, and counterfeit coins go back even further, to Roman times and before. Goods that were paid for were never delivered, and ‘breach of promise of marriage’ was actually a crime. It was even referenced in a Gilbert and Sullivan operetta—’The Judge’s Song’ from Trial By Jury, 1875, if you must know.

Scams are not new; what is new is the ease with which scams can take place using computing power and the internet. Automation can send out thousands of emails, and if even a few result in unwary people clicking on a link, then the payoff can be worthwhile to the perpetrator. It takes only a moment of inattention to fall into a trap.

How can we stay safe when the rogues are using increasingly sophisticated and convincing techniques? Here are some pointers:

Transferring money

Unless you know the person or organisation and understand that the transaction is genuine (you’re paying a bill online, for example), don’t make a payment without first checking. Don’t reveal credit card details unless you’re dealing with a recognised website of good repute, and never, under any circumstances, reveal your passwords.

Money for nothing

If you receive an email promising money for little or no effort—a unique business opportunity, a lottery win on a ticket you haven’t bought, a windfall from a relative you’ve never heard of, even a tax rebate—it’s almost always a scam. It’s very rare that you get something for nothing. Don’t reply, and never give out your bank or credit card details.

Romance

Okay, so none of us are in the first flush of youth, but we can still be targeted. Beware the approach that appears to lead to a potential romance. That approach will soon be asking for money.

Third party payments

If you’re asked to handle payments for someone else, where money is to be transferred to your account and then sent on, it’s likely a scam is being set up. Don’t do it.

Coercion

Scammers often threaten people to exploit their fears or try to make them act in a hurry. ‘Make this payment or your relatives will suffer.’ Again, don’t do it.

Embedded links

Unsolicited emails often include links or telephone numbers. Both can be scams. Links can infect your computer with a virus, after which a payment will be demanded to remove it; calls to the telephone numbers can rack up enormous bills.

Unsecured sites

Look for the image of a green padlock in the address bar of your browser. If it’s not there, don’t provide information. In addition, look for ‘https’ rather than ‘http’ in the website address.

Telephone calls.

Several BSOL members have received unsolicited telephone calls claiming that their computer has a fault or a virus that can be put right—for a fee. Computers can go wrong and can pick up viruses, but they don’t send off messages containing your telephone number. It’s another scam.

It’s not quite right

Scammers can take over the computers of others, using their address books to send unsolicited emails. People write in certain ways, regularly using the same words and phrases. So if an email from someone you know looks strange, and especially if it’s asking for an action to be taken, it could well be a scam.


That’s quite a list. However, it can be reduced to a single line: if it seems not quite right, it probably isn’t, so don’t go there.

What to do if you suspect you’ve been targeted? First, don’t panic. Stop and think. Is this a possible scam? Don’t click on anything and don’t follow up any telephone calls. If your computer seems to be doing something strange, turn it off, by holding down the on/off button if necessary.

Second, don’t be embarrassed: call your mentor. They will advise you on what to do next.Remember, if it seems too good to be true, it almost certainly is.

Be aware and stay safe.

The information provided in this article is provided as a guide only. BSOL does not guarantee, and accepts no legal liability whatsoever arising from or connected to the accuracy, reliability, or completeness of this article. No readers should act on the basis of views obtained in this article without obtaining specific professional advice.

This article may contain images, or may mention specific brands of products. This does not constitute an endorsement by BSOL for the products that have been mentioned.

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