In this age of artificial intelligence and rapid advances in technology, scammers are getting ever more advanced and skilled at taking our money.
While the vulnerable are often targeted, people who normally consider themselves tech savvy and financially literate are also slipping through the cracks and losing sizable amounts of money.
In the first nine months of 2023, Australians lost $398 million to scams, $241 million of which was in investment scams. That was a 9% increase on the first nine months of 2022.
The Australian Financial Complaints Authority (AFCA) also reported an almost doubling in scam-related complaints between 2022 and 2023. AFCA registered 8,987 complaints related to scams, an increase of 95% from 2022.
An increasingly prevalent type of scam, and one that SMSF trustees need to be mindful of, are business email compromise scams. These are scams where criminals hack a business’s email and may send invoices or payment requests which look identical to previously received documents except for a change of bank details.
In the nine months to September 2023, Australians lost $14 million to these types of scams and some people lost property deposits this way.
Impersonation scams are one of the latest threats specifically targeting investors. The ones inflicting the most financial harm on Australians in the nine months to the end of September 2023 were imposter bond scams, which cost Australians a collective $25 million according to Scamwatch.
Scammers pretend to be a financial service company or a bank offering a low-risk investment product like government bonds. They provide convincing documentation which may be copied from legitimate financial institutions, often use the name of a real person working at a bank, and can also set up fake comparison websites to lure investors.
To avoid these imposters, always be wary of surprise contacts offering ‘low-risk, high-return’ investments, whatever avenue they use – email, text, phone – and always independently verify who you are dealing with.
In Australia a company or financial professional must hold an Australian Financial Services (AFS) licence or be an authorised representative to sell investments. You can check whether a person or company is licensed by the Australian Securities and Investment Commission (ASIC), or is an authorised representative, on the ASIC Connect Professional register. You can also check ASIC’s financial advisers register.
Also verify the company details offered via independent web searches and calling the number provided on the public website rather than any number provided by a cold caller, or in an email.
These are scams in which scammers impersonate companies raising capital via initial public offers (IPOs). These crooks are also getting increasingly clever and know how to coincide their campaigns with legitimate company listings.
You would probably be wary if you received an unsolicited phone call offering a ‘too-good-to-be-true’ chance to get in on an IPO, but you might not be so hesitant if you saw an advertisement for that IPO which asked you to register your interest. If that first contact was followed up with a prospectus and a phone call, you would probably think it was legitimate, but this is one way people are being caught by scammers.
If you are truly interested in an IPO and believe it will be a good investment for your SMSF, end contact with the cold caller/emailer/texter immediately and contact your broker or financial adviser to ask them for the prospectus and application form.
Financial losses from cryptocurrency increased 32% to $148 million in the first nine months of 2023, according to the National Anti-Scam Centre Quarterly report. Like many of the latest scams, criminals in this space are getting increasingly sophisticated. They use cryptocurrency because it is not easily recovered and can be used in fast international transactions. Unfortunately, if you lose money in a cryptocurrency scam your money will be hard, if not impossible, to recover.
Be sceptical about any investment offer, however it comes to you, that offers guaranteed high returns with low risk, especially if it involves cryptocurrency.
Don’t download a crypto trading app from any unverified link, don’t sell mystery tokens in your crypto wallet, and don’t invest in any initial coin offering from an unverified source.
All in all, just be very cautious of anything involving crypto. While you are technically allowed to invest in crypto in your SMSF, the ATO strongly encourages SMSF trustees to seek independent advice around investing in crypto assets.
Scamwatch offers these tips to identify potential scams and stay out of harm’s way:
- Never send money or give your personal information, credit card, online bank or cryptocurrency account details to anyone you don’t know, especially if you’ve only met them online, through email or over the phone.
- Never click on links in text messages or open attachments in emails if you were not expecting the text or email.
- Avoid any arrangement that asks for up-front payment via bank transfer, PayID or cryptocurrency, like Bitcoin. It is rare to recover money sent this way.
- Be cautious of anyone making contact via encrypted message platforms. These platforms are commonly used by scammers.
- Know who you are dealing with. Contact the business or organisation via phone numbers sourced from an independent internet search.
- Don’t be pressured to act quickly. A legitimate business or agency will not require you to act immediately.
- Remember to update passwords to your online accounts regularly and use strong passwords or passphrases.
What to do if you are scammed
If you think you have, or are, being scammed act quickly. End the call and stop sending money. Contact your bank or card provider immediately to put a stop on your account or credit card.
Australia and New Zealand’s national identity and cyber support service IDCARE may be able to help you limit the damage, especially in the wake of recent data breaches. You can also make a complaint to AFCA if you don’t believe your bank or financial institution has been particularly helpful.
And don’t forget to watch out for follow up scams, because a scammer is more than likely to try again if they have already been successful. They may even offer to try and help you get your money back, only to take more money.
If you suspect you have been scammed, know you are not alone and that it can happen to anyone regardless of their financial expertise and knowledge.