26 September 2023

Consumers warned to check their banks

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Consumers are being warned to be wary of phone calls and texts that appear to be from their bank, following alarming reports of Australians losing their life savings to a highly sophisticated scam.

Deputy Chair of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), Catriona Lowe said reports to the ACCC’s Scamwatch indicated scammers were using new technology to trick their victims, by making calls appear to come from the bank’s legitimate phone number or by sending texts that appeared in the same conversation thread as genuine bank messages.

“We are incredibly concerned about bank impersonation scams because they can be so convincing, they are very hard to detect,” Ms Lowe said.

“What’s equally worrying about this particular scam, is that it is emptying every last cent out of victims’ savings accounts, with losses averaging $22,000 and more than 90 reports of losses between $40,000 and $800,000,” she said.

“This causes both financial and emotional devastation.”

Ms Lowe said the ACCC knew of a man who lost over $500,000 after receiving a call from someone claiming to be from a major bank’s security department, wanting to know if a payment had been authorised.

She said that in another case, a man lost $38,000 after receiving a scam text message about a suspicious transaction which appeared in the same conversation thread as legitimate messages from his bank.

“He called the number in the text and was put through to a member of the banks’ fraud team,” the Deputy Chair said.

“Unfortunately, it was an elaborate scam and he lost everything.”

Ms Lowe said the scams impersonated the big four banks as well as other financial institutions and often had a sense of urgency to them, such as fraudulent activity raising red flags, or a frozen account.

She said it was critical to remember that no matter how legitimate the call or message seemed, a bank wouldn’t ask customers to urgently transfer funds.

“If you receive an SMS with a telephone number to call, do not use it,” Ms Lowe said.

“Instead, call your bank direct on a number you have sourced yourself.

“Likewise, hang up if you receive a call from someone claiming to be from your bank requesting you to transfer money to ‘keep it safe’.”

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