Not long after retirement, Roger* received an email from a portfolio manager about an investment opportunity. It couldn’t have come at a better time – he’d been thinking about smart ways to invest his hard earned money. The manager promised Roger quick and high returns if he followed his advice. All he had to do was pay a fee and leave the rest up to the manager.
Martha* was forced into early retirement due to a back injury. Money wasn’t tight, but the medical expenses were piling up so when she got an email saying the government owed her $5,000 in overpaid taxes, it was a dream come true. All she had to do was pay a ‘reclaim fee’ into a Western Union account and the money would be hers.
Both Roger and Martha lost large amounts of money. They had fallen for a scam.
Scammers are professional criminals. Anyone can fall for a scam – and scammers are getting smarter and using more sophisticated tricks to dupe thousands of Victorians every year. Scammers are also hard to find and prosecute, with many based overseas or working anonymously from behind a computer.
Why older Victorians?
Many older Victorians are attractive targets for scammers, because they often have substantial assets and access to life savings and superannuation.
Older people are also the fastest growing online user group. Many go online to keep in touch with their children, family or friends, to correspond via email, watch YouTube videos and catch-up TV, or research and book travel.
Life events such as financial hardship and recovering from illness, loss and trauma, can also leave older people more vulnerable to scams.
Common online scams
Some common online scams include:
- Online selling scams – scammers pose as sellers and post fake advertisements offering non-existent products for low prices. These may appear on genuine websites, online classifieds and online auction sites
- Romance scams – scammers approach you on legitimate dating websites and build an online relationship with you, often over weeks, months or years. Once the relationship is established, they will start asking you for money.
- Rebate scam – scammers pretending to be from a government, bank or other well-known institution will call, email or text you, saying that you are owed money. However, first you must pay an administration fee or similar to ‘reclaim’ the money.
Tips to avoid online scams
Consumer Affairs Victoria is working to reduce the harm caused by scammers by building greater awareness and understanding of online scams among older Victorians.
Here are some of their tips for staying safe online:
- Do not open suspicious text messages, pop-up windows, or emails.
- Be wary of any emails or requests on social media from people you do not know.
- Avoid sending money, personal or financial details to someone you have never met in person, especially if you are looking for love online.
- Be wary of online sellers offering products and well-known brands at extremely low prices.
- Watch out for unsolicited emails, phone calls or letters saying you have unclaimed funds or are owed money.
- Do not let anyone pressure you into making quick investment decisions.
- Never send money or bank details to claim a prize.
Think you’re scam savvy? Take Consumer Affairs Victoria’s quiz and find out at consumer.vic.gov.au/scamsquiz
For more information on commons types of scams, including tips on how to identify and avoid them, visit consumer.vic.gov.au/scamsavvy
To report a scam, contact Consumer Affairs Victoria on 1300 55 81 81 or visit consumer.vic.gov.au/reportascam
You can also find information on scams, on the Federal government’s Scamwatch website: scamwatch.gov.au
* Names are fictional.