Scammers pretend to be from banks, government organisations, police, and computer and IT support.
During 2021 scammers stole more than A$7.2 million from Australians by gaining access to home computers, an increase of 184 per cent compared to the same period last year.
According to the Australian Consumer Competition Commission’s (ACCC) Scamwatch, almost 6,500 Australians have reported phone calls from scammers trying to convince them to download software that gives access to home computers and their bank accounts.
Commonly called remote access scams, scammers pretend to be from well-known organisations such as Telstra, eBay, NBN Co, Amazon, banks, government organisations, police, and computer and IT support organisations. They create a sense of urgency to make you give them access to your computer via remote access software.
“Remote access scams are one of the largest growing scam types in Australia. Scammers take advantage of the digital world and the fear of fraud and cybercrime to access people’s devices and steal their money,” ACCC Deputy Chair Delia Rickard said.
“These types of scams target and impact all people and can be convincing. People aged 55 and older lost over $4.4 million, accounting for almost half of total losses. Young people reported losing on average $20,000 and eight Indigenous Australians, some in remote communities, lost a total of $38,000.”
Scams of this nature will often be an unexpected phone call saying you’ve been billed for a purchase you didn’t make, your device has been compromised, or your account has been hacked. Sometimes they start with an SMS, email or pop up on a screen from a scammer seeking urgent contact to fix a problem.
The scammer will pretend to assist you or ask you to assist them to catch the scammer. They will tell you to download remote control software such as AnyDesk or TeamViewer. Once the scammer has control of your computer or device, they will ask you to log into applications such as emails, internet banking or PayPal accounts, which will allow the scammer to access your banking and personal information to impersonate you or steal their money.
While remote access tools have been around for years to help IT support personnel in their work, scammers are also taking advantage of the ability to remotely access people’s computers or smart phones.
“It is really important not to let anyone who contacts you out of the blue access your devices, as once you give them access, you have no way of knowing what the person will do to your computer or what programs they may install,” Rickard said.
“If you receive contact from someone claiming to be from a telecommunications company, a technical support service provider or online marketplace, hang up. If you think the communication may have been legitimate, independently source the contact details for the organisation to contact them. Don’t use the contact details in the communication. Also, don’t click on any of the links.”
“Remember, your bank will never ask you to give them access to your computer or accounts, nor will they ask for the codes to verify transactions. You should never provide those numbers to anyone except to verify transactions you are making in your mobile banking app or through your online banking,” Ms Rickard said.
The ACCC is working with the private sector to disrupt these scams including by sharing information with telecommunications carriers about the phone numbers used to call Australians so they can trace and block calls.