Con artists, coronavirus and fraud: What you need to know

Goodbye $12, 712, 415.

That’s how much money Australians lost in June 2020 to coronavirus scams. 15, 491 cases were reported, according to Scamwatch. With more and more services running online and emotions running high, the pandemic provides a breeding ground for online and telephone fraud. And it’s not just individuals who are victims, but businesses as well. 

In this post we’re outlining the top scams we’ve seen lately and what you can do if you’re a victim. 

Phishing – government impersonation scams 

Scammers in the coronavirus age are impersonating what are typically considered trusted sources – the government, government entities, even WHO.

Posing as government agencies, scammers send out text messages which provide coronavirus information…and ask for your personal or financial information at the same time. They might also send a link or attachment, which, when opened,  snatches your personal and financial details. 

We’re talking fake myGov texts and emails, fake ATO credit scams, even letters from the Department of Health. Scamwatch provides some good visuals of these kinds of scams. 

Anytime you receive an email, phone call or message asking for your personal or financial information, put your guard up. Better yet, press delete or hang up. Never open the hyperlinks or attachments contained in these messages. Even if you think it comes from a reputable source – delete the message. If you’re concerned, contact the reputable source directly or go directly to their website through your browser (yes, we’re suggesting you type in the URL manually). 

The business email compromise scam 

Taking advantage of the economic fiasco that is COVID-19, some scammers are impersonating supplier businesses and/or factories. These scammers are asking businesses to divert their usual payment to a new bank account. This new bank account is often referred to as a ‘necessary restructure’ due to COVID-realted impacts. If you divert your payment to this new account, it goes straight to the scammer and the real supplier business loses out. You also won’t be getting any supplies for that order.

Another related scam that crops up here is known as the foreign manufacturer scam. It’s essentially the same as above, only this time, the email asks you to make payments to a new bank account….which is located in a city with no relation to the actual factory or supply chain. It’s a different city, a different country – the whole thing seems a little left field. 

Any correspondence asking you to divert funds to a new bank account should raise alarm bells. Some simple tips to protect yourself or your business are: 

  • Never act on an email, text message, social media message or fax of this kind. Contact the supplier or factory directly and speak to their accounting team to verify the information. 
  • Check the name on the bank account  – is it exactly the same as the official name of the supplier or factory? If not, it’s likely to be fraudulent.
  • Refuse to make payments to a bank located outside of the city where the factory or supplier is located.  

Businesses can also check the ACCC’s Small Business Information Network for verified information on surveys, scams and information relevant to the small business sector. 

Fake order

This one can be particularly nasty. Companies impersonating a supplier or a factory may use the economic downturn as a facade to ask businesses for more money, higher deposits, or payment prior to shipment. These tend to say something along the lines of ‘in order to meet our demands, we need you to pay a 50% deposit.’ Look out for inflated orders, substantial deposits, any changes to your usual payment process that stand out as unreasonable or odd. Again, use the steps outlined above: verify the information with the supplier or factory directly, and don’t follow through on any payments until you’ve verified.

It’s too late, I went through with it. What can I do now?!

Unfortunately, it happens. People are particularly vulnerable right now, which means that when an urgent email or message rolls through it’s all too easy to feel overwhelmed and act before thinking it through. 

If this has happened to you, the most important thing is that you act quickly and contact a lawyer. Often once your money or assets are handed over they are laundered, shifted or moved overseas. Contact Green & Associates on 02 – 8080-7585 as soon as you become aware that something fishy has happened. There are civil remedies, such as investigations, freezing orders, search orders and other ancillary orders which may protect your assets and money.

We know it’s a natural instinct for many victims of fraud to want to report the scam to the police, but in these cases, police are not always the best point of call.  When a criminal investigation starts any civil proceeding can be stalled until the matter is resolved. In other words: your money can move halfway around the world while the police are investigating what happened to it, and your chances of protecting it through civil remedies (freezing orders, search orders) disappear until the criminal investigation is finished.

 

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