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‘Tis the season to be scammed

Consumer watchdog warns online shoppers over mail fraud

Kishor Napier-Raman and Justine Landis-Hanley - Sidney Morning Herald - 17-12-11
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Australians are being hit by scams packaged as parcel delivery notifications this Christmas season, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission warns.

The ACCC's ScamWatch says it has received about 1700 reports of scammers sending fake "missed delivery" notices via email or text in the past year.

The lead-up to Christmas is a goldmine for online scammers, according to ACCC deputy chair Delia Rickard.

"We are all busy and harried at Christmas time, leading us to be less vigilant about our personal security online." Ms Rickard said.

Last December, 7153 internet scams were reported to the commission, the most recorded over a one-month period. Meanwhile, consumers lost an estimated $2.3 million in December alone.

Garbled emails from senders claiming to be a "Nigerian Prince" are scams of the past, with fraudsters adopting increasingly sophisticated methods of stealing personal details and money from victims.

University student Connor Parissis received an email from a sender claiming to be "Australia Post" with a link for the sender to find out how to collect his missed parcel from mailing company DHL.

"I order a lot of things so I thought it was genuine. I clicked to see what it was in reference to," Mr Parissis said.

The link took Mr Parissis to a survey inviting him to enter his name, email and date of birth to win a DHL package.

"I instantly recognised it wasn't an Australia Post URL or DHL site. Anything that says I could 'win' something is an instant way of knowing it's likely a scam, and it didn't refer to a package I had ordered," Mr Parissis said.

"Younger generations are definitely somewhat more clued on to recognising suspicious websites, and aren't easily susceptible to scams, but even this email was surprisingly convincing.

"It's wise to be aware that we are all vulnerable and to ensure that if we do click on a link, as how I did, that we don't enter any personal details."

"I fear how older generations like my mother would have responded to such an email."

For people who have fallen victim to the scam, the consequences can be dire.

"Clicking on the link is likely to download ransomware that is likely to lock your computer and demand payment in the form of bitcoin to unlock it," Ms Rickard said.

"People who click on ransomware virus have hired experts and gone to a lot of trouble to get them unlocked, while others have paid the ransom to unlock them themselves. These figures can be in the high hundreds or even thousands to get them unlocked."

According to Andrej Petkovski, managing partner and co-founder of cyber-security company Sydney Backups, "business has exploded since ransomware came on the scene".

Mr Petkovski's said his company deals with one postal scam every week on average.

"Criminals and hackers usually stick to the same routines. Parcel deliveries and bills are probably the two most common, because people always expect parcels and are curious, or they get an astronomically high bill which triggers the response of being upset or worried," Mr Petkovski said.

Despite their increasing prevalence, very few people who experience such scams take any action.

"My guess is about 5 per cent of people who are exposed to online scams report to the ACCC/Scamwatch," Ms Rickard said.

"What we know is just the tip of the iceberg".

Tags: scam, Christmas, ScamWatch, missed delivery, online scammers, internet scams, ransomware

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