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Aussies Lost $140K To Shopping Scams In Just One Week, Thanks To Coronavirus

Aussies are being warned about a spike in online scams after the consumer watchdog received thousands of reports of fraudsters cashing in on COVID-19.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) said since the virus outbreak, Scamwatch had received more than one thousand coronavirus-related scam reports.

Scammers have found a number of different opportunities to target Australians during the pandemic, including through online shopping scams, superannuation scams and phishing scams such as government impersonation.

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Heartless Scammers Target Elderly Shoppers With Fake Woolies Vouchers

Opportunistic scammers are using the fake promise of Woolworths shopping vouchers to lure vulnerable people into clicking on links that may infect their devices with viruses.

Scamwatch said just over the last week, Australians had lost a staggering $138,700 to online shopping scams alone, an increase of 39 percent from the previous week.

"Scamwatch urges everyone to be cautious and remain alert to coronavirus-related scams," a statement on the ACCC website said.

"Scammers are hoping that you have let your guard down. Do not provide your personal, banking or superannuation details to strangers who have approached you.

"Scammers may pretend to have a connection with you. So it’s important to stop and check, even when you are approached by what you think is a trusted organisation."

How Are Australians Being Targeted?

ScamWatch lists a number of popular ways that scammers are using online technology to take advantage of unsuspecting Australians.

One scam, for example, sends users a text message which appears to come from a user called "GOV" or 'myGov'. In the message, the scammers purport to have important safety information from the Australian government about COVID-19.

An example of the government impersonation phishing scams. Image: Scamwatch

The text message tells people to click on a provided link for further information, but Scamwatch said it actually leads to malicious links which are designed to steal personal and financial information from unsuspecting users.

A similar scam involved emails sent to users pretending to be from government agencies and offering to help with applications for financial assistance or payments for staying home, Scamwatch said.

Other scams also impersonate, banks, travel agents, insurance providers and telco companies to dupe people into providing personal and financial information, seek payment for fake services or try to gain remote access to the person's computer.

Dozens Of Superannuation Scam Reports

Earlier this month the ACCC also issued an urgent warning over a number of new superannuation scams which began popping up after the government announced plans to allow people suffering financial hardship to access some of their superannuation.

The ACCC said since March, it had received 87 reports of superannuation scams, but thankfully, there had been no reported losses. But the organisation was still concerned, after Australians lost more than $6 million to superannuation scams in 2019 alone.

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The Dangers Of Dipping Into Your Super Early

Withdrawing cash from your superannuation account should be a "last resort" to battle coronavirus money woes, experts say.

"Scammers are cold-calling people claiming to be from organisations that can help you get early access to your super," ACCC Deputy Chair Delia Rickard said earlier this month.

"While older people are more commonly affected by superannuation scams, the new early-access scheme means a range of age groups are now experiencing these scams.”

Contact the author: vgerova@networkten.com.au