Get started: How to spot a scam

Scam shock

If it sounds too good to be true – hang the hell up

“My name is Andrew Forrest and I’d like to talk to you about Bitcoin”

Andrew Forrest is probably a great guy but he’s not going to talk to me about Bitcoin. If you google Andrew Forrest, he’s known for many things but Bitcoin isn’t one of them. Because that’s not really Andrew Forrest – it’s a scam.

The Bitcoin “get rich quick scam” has been an advert hosted on social media platforms like LinkedIn for months.

Scammers really annoy me because they take advantage of people in order to steal their money.

Through educating people about what scams look like, we can cut down on the number of people who get taken in by scammers. Here’s how to spot a scam.

1. What is a scam?
The aim of a scam is to make you believe a lie so that you will give a scammer money, either directly or through access to your personal information. While we understand scammers to be hiding behind computers, they’re increasing organised and sophisticated in their approach. Scammers who call you from overseas can even disguise their number so that it appears to be a call from an Australian number. They’re trying to catch you out.

2. What do scams look like?
While scams come in different disguises, their central aim is to catch you off guard or use trusted sources to pull you in to the scam. Here’s some examples of what scams look like:

  • Phone call: Someone is our office got a call telling them that they had an ATO debt that they needed to pay straight away.
    • They got out their credit card but then stopped because something felt weird.
    • The caller suggested that they pay the debt with an iTunes voucher. What kind of government department would ask them to do that? Something felt weird.
    • Instead, they hung up and called the ATO directly through the contact number listed on the official Australian Government website.
    • It turns out that they didn’t have an ATO debt – the phone call was a scam.
  • Text message: I got a text from my bank stating that my account had been hacked and that I should call them.
    • It appeared to be from the banks’ number but something felt really odd about the text so I didn’t call them as instructed.
    • Instead I took a screenshot of the text, looked up my bank’s contact number from their official verified website and called them myself. It turns out that nothing was wrong with my account – the text message was a scam.
  • Social media: I was scrolling through Facebook and saw UK money expert Martin Lewis pop up in an advertisement telling me I could get rich quick.
    • That didn’t seem quite right because Martin’s message is all about working hard to save money.
    • Instead of clicking on the advert, I reported it to Facebook.
    • It turns out that Martin actually sued Facebook because of these advertising scams – the social media advert was a scam.
  • Email: I got an email from a man who apparently was looking for love and for whatever reason, had decided that he was in love with me.
    • The problem was that Derek* had never met me, he was far too good looking and to be frank, any man so desperate for love that he’s resorting to cold-emailing potential suitors had more need of an intense therapy session than romance.
    • Something felt off and I reported the email.
    • It turned out that the impossibly good-looking Derek was a google image search result for “handsome man” and was not a real person – the email was a scam.

*Derek’s name has been changed because Derek is not a real person.


3. How do you know it’s a scam?

If you’re wondering whether you’re being contacted by a scammer, here are some signs to watch out for:

  • Out of the blue – scammers will contact you without warning to catch you off guard
  • Promise or pressure – scammers will promise you something for very little effort or will create the pressure of an emergency situation. This includes introducing the threat that your bank account or computer are unsafe when the real threat to you is the scammer at the other end of that email or phone call.
  • Personal information – most scammers will try and get your personal information such as your bank account details, address and tax information. They might directly ask you for a copy of documents like you drivers’ license which can be used towards proof of ID. 

Remember that scammers are criminals – their business is trying to fool you into handing over your details so that they can steal your money.

Scammers are becoming increasingly sophisticated – they can even mimic a phone number from a trusted organisation so that a phone call seems legit. There is always the possibility that someone contacting you could be a scammer so make sure that you remain alert and keep your personal information safe.


4. What can I do if I see a scam?
If you get a phone call that feels off, the safest thing you can do is hang up. While it is tempting to move on with your day, reporting a scam means that it can be acted on and will be less likely to trap anyone else. If you’re in Australia, the Government agency, the ACCC run a service called Scam Watch where you can report scams when you find them.

My golden rule in how I manage scammers is to freeze, block and report.

  • If I get a scam phone call? I hang up, block the number and report it
  • If I get a scam text? I block the number and report it
  • If I get a scam email? I don’t click on anything in the email, I block the sender and report it
  • If I see a scam advert in my feed? I don’t click on the advert and I report it 

Money Bites is a finance education platform and we want to see more money in your wallet and more Australians protected from scammers.

Kate Crowhurst

Written by Kate Crowhurst

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