By Mina Martin
The Australian Competition & Consumer Commission is warning against highly sophisticated bank impersonation scams after alarming reports of Australians getting tricked out of their life savings.
Bank impersonation scams, or spoofing scams, accounted for 14,603 of the reports received by ACCC’s Scamwatch in 2022 and resulted in more than $20 million in losses. The reports indicated scammers were using new technology to make the call appear to come from the bank’s legitimate phone number or the text to appear in the same conversation thread as genuine bank messages.
Total losses to phone and text scams last year, meanwhile, amounted to more than $169 million, the scam statistics showed.
“We are incredibly concerned about bank impersonation scams because they can be so convincing, they are very hard to detect,” said Catriona Lowe, ACCC deputy chair.
“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. This causes both financial and emotional devastation.”
“We know 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.”
“In another case, a man lost $38,000 after receiving a scam text message about a suspicious transaction. The scam text 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. Unfortunately, it was an elaborate scam and he lost everything.”
Bank impersonation scams impersonate the big four banks and other financial institutions, often creating a sense of urgency, such as fraudulent activity raising red flags, or a frozen account.
“It is critical to remember that no matter how legitimate the call or message seems, a bank won’t ask you to urgently transfer funds,” Lowe said. “If you receive an SMS with a telephone number to call, do not use it. 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.’ Ask for a reference number and call your bank back using contact details you have found independently.”
Consumers are urged to never provide their online banking passwords, one-time security codes, PINs, or tokens to anyone over the phone. They should also contact their bank or financial institution immediately if they think they have been scammed.
“Following recent mass data breaches, many Australians were encouraged to monitor their accounts for suspicious activity,” Lowe said. “Sadly, this has led to consumers acting on these scam calls and text messages out of fear that their accounts have been compromised.”
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