This week is scam awareness week, an initiative run by the ACCC’s Scam Awareness Network. Scams are no small issue. The ACCC found that in 2018, Australian businesses lost in excess of $7.2 million to scams and that small businesses with fewer than 20 employees were the most likely to be targeted.
Here is a rule of thumb: if you think something is a scam, it probably is. Hang up, delete it, or walk away.
Scammers are not nice people. Scammers are scum. They don’t just scam people, they scam the most vulnerable members of society. The old, infirm, disadvantaged, stressed, those suffering from debilitating mental health issues or confronting a life crisis and not quite in charge of all their decision-making skills – people we know and love.
In the world of small business, falling for a scam causes financial havoc and emotional distress for business owners, staff and their families. We need to raise awareness on how to identify and report scams so that others are less likely to fall victim to the plots of these desperate scumbags. Scammers are becoming more and more sophisticated and hard to identify, so we all need to stay vigilant and not fall into the trap of thinking we are too smart, too young, too cool, too irrelevant, too beautiful, too hideous, too whatever-you-think-you-are, to be scammed.
We have put together a list of resources you can share with small businesses to help them identify and report scammers. You can find the list at the bottom of this article, but first, here are some personal tips from our CEO on how to deal with scammers over the phone.
Responding to scammers 101
Identifying a scam on the phone is often easy for most of us but the whole idea of a scam is to get to those vulnerable people listed above. Scammers may make thousands of calls to get one scam in place, but that scam can be very lucrative indeed.
How do I deal with scammers?
Step 1: recognise that it is a scam
Firstly, I identify it is a scammer. There are several ways that I do that: is there some pause before the person at the other end says anything? Is there a weird introduction? Is the call supposed to be from a government agency or a bank? If yes to any of these then my ‘scam-radar’ is fully lit up and I’m ready to hang up or do something else – like have fun at their expense if I have the time or need entertainment.
Step 2, option 1: pretend to give them what they want
For example, if it is a scam involving “I’m from the Tax office and you have a debt” then I might immediately sound like I am panicking about this and offer to provide my tax file number (a tax file number is like gold for a scammer – do not ever provide anyone with your TFN unless you know who they are, and even then don’t do it unless it's your employer or superannuation fund). When I provide my TFN it goes like this:
Me (sounding stressed and nervous): “Here it is, do you have a pen? Are you ready?"
Them: “Yes sir”, “please start” or “of course”.
0 6 5 4 3 2 7 8 9 0 6 5 4 3 1 8 5 6 5 6 432980976123456789...
I recite random numbers like this until they get annoyed and hang up. One scammer once called me a very bad name.
Good people: 1 Scammers: nil.
Step 2, option 2: offer feedback on their scamming skills
Another example is to identify the scam and ask them to proceed so I can judge their skills.
Me: “I love this scam! Let’s see how good you are. OK, start."
Interestingly, in various cases the scammer actually continues on and tries to convince me they are truly honest and not a scammer. They keep going and I say things like “Wow, you are so good!” or “I’m almost convinced” or “you are the best” or “woah, you are hopeless, two out of ten for effort and degree of difficulty."
Good people: 2. Scammers: nil.
Step 2, option 3: bore them
Another way people deal with scams is by saying “wait a minute” and putting the phone down to wander off and watch telly or cook dinner or whatever. Some people I know blow a whistle into the phone, while one person I know just starts telling the scammer a story about what happened at work that day – I might try that as I often lack any one interested in hearing what I did.
The Goodies: 3. Scammers: nil.
But of course it is serious to have a loved one – your Mum or Dad or someone else you value – duped, so we also need to look after these people by giving them advice and support. See for example the ACCC's resource on advice for older Australians.
Resources for small businesses on how to identify a scam
The ACCC has a list of the different types of scams that target small businesses. These include false billing, overpayment scams, malware & ransomware, and more.
Businesses can subscribe to Scamwatch radar alerts to keep up-to-date on new scams.
If businesses need to report a Scam, they can do so here:
If businesses are looking for information on what to do after they have been scammed, they can find it here:
The ATO has this resource for identifying and reporting tax scams.
Australian Cyber Security Centre
The ACSC’s Stay Smart Online initiative has a Facebook page you can follow where you can find videos on tricks that scammers use.
They also have a more general page on cyber security for businesses.
NBN related scams are becoming more and more common. NBN Co has received more than 9,500 calls reporting suspected scams in this past quarter alone! The company has put together this website on scam advice relating to the roll out of the NBN:
Their top two tips relating specifically to NBN related scams are:
To remember that NBN Co is a wholesaler, which means it does not sell phone or internet services directly to the public. People need to contact their preferred phone and internet provider in order to make the switch.
That NBN Co does not make automated calls, such as robocalls, to advise of disconnections to nbn or existing copper phone line services. Do not engage with these calls.
Telstra has some advice on how to distinguish a real phone call or email from Telstra from a fake one.
Pickr has a helpful article on how to check a website’s URL to spot potential scams.
If you have time to spare and want to impress everyone in the office or at dinner parties with your extensive knowledge on the topic, you can read the ACCC’s Targeting Scams Report on Scam Activity in 2018 here. The report contains interesting information on the age groups and genders most likely to be scammed as well as the top contact methods of scammers.