avoiding scams in Australia

Avoid these top ways to take your money


The word that makes your blood run cold. You know the story; it’s often in the nightly news. A visibly upset older Australian describes how they checked their bank account and the balance had dropped dramatically. They’ve been scammed and their bank has told them that the money can’t be recovered. How could this have happened to them?

Australians part company with $92 million a year due to scamming activity. So how can you avoid this happening to you? As part of Retirement Essentials’ ongoing mission to help all our members protect their savings, today we look at ways to avoid scams both online and off.

What is a scam?

Let’s start with the definition offered by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) which says that a scam is a way of tricking someone into handing over money or their personal details. There are trends in scams – you may remember the famous Nigerian email requests for money transfers as well as various types of dating scams, fraudulent calls from people saying they work for the Australian Tax Office and, more recently, text messages claiming unpaid fees for motorway tolls. Whether the request comes via email, phone, text or a knock at the door, they are all ways to get you to hand over funds or personal information.

How can you avoid them?

Start by arming yourself with knowledge about the way scammers work, so you can recognise a suspicious approach from the outset. The ACCC is very active in helping Australian consumers keep themselves safe. One of its key offerings is the Scamwatch website, which you can visit to inform yourself about the various ways scammers operate and new types of scams so that you don’t get caught out unawares. It also helps to know the various different ways scammers work so you are on high alert if they target you. Knocking back a request, deleting the email or text and reporting the scam is sensible if you are unsure about the validity of the organisation which has approached you. Legitimate businesses will always reapproach you in ways that you can verify, so deleting a suspicious first approach is a low risk strategy.

Most common scams to avoid

The ACCC has compiled the following list of top scams  from the thousands that are reported every year. It does not mean you are foolish or gullible if you get caught out as many scams are sophisticated and highly convincing. Here’s the top eleven scams as defined by the ACCC: 

  • Dating and romance: The scammer creates a fake profile to lure you into a relationship, then asks you for money or to invest in something.
  • Investment scams: The scammer gets money from you for a fake investment opportunity.
  • Buying or selling: The scammer creates fake online stores or classified ads to sell you a product that doesn’t exist. Scammers may also send fake invoices for services or products that you did not order.
  • Attempt to gain your personal information: The scammer tricks you into handing over banking or personal details, then uses these details to steal money or gain other access like taking out a loan in your name. These scams include hacking, phishing and remote access scams and identity theft.
  • Threats and extortion: The scammer claims you have an unpaid bill, fine or debt, and uses threats to make you pay them. The scammer may pretend to be from the police or well-known fraud department and trick you into giving your personal or banking information or access to your computer or device.
  • Job and employment: The scammer promises you a high-paying job that doesn’t exist or a money-making opportunity in the form of a Ponzi or pyramid scheme.
  • Unexpected money: The scammer tells you that you’re entitled to money or valuable assets but you must make upfront payments to get them.
  • Travel, prizes and lottery scams: The scammer tricks you into giving them money or personal details to get a prize from a lottery, sweepstake or competition.
  • Fake charities: The scammer convinces you to pay money to a fake charity.

The fake charity scam can be difficult to recognise as scammers jump onto disasters and conflict as soon as they occur (e.g. bushfires or regional floods in Australia) and create plausible ‘charities’ for those with big hearts to make donations. Here’s a link to the Australian Charities Not for Profit Associations list of registered charities so you can check whether a cause is legitimate or not.

Other ways to stay safe

The Little Black Book of Scams created by the ACCC is an extremely handy summary of scams, and ways to avoid all the different types. It is downloadable as a PDF and well worth the 20 minutes or so it takes to read and digest. It also has helpful links to report scams and a list of agencies for different types of potential fraud. You can report scams to the ACCC itself through the Scamwatch website. You can also subscribe to receive free email alerts on new scams which are currently targeting the unwary. 

Retirement Essentials offers a range of support services for retirees which are designed to help maximise entitlements and provide bite-sized advice for different life stage income needs. One of our most popular consultations is with an adviser who guides clients through a safe spending simulator, showing different scenarios and allowing the clients to better understand their options. Here’s a link, also, to the most popular articles we featured in 2023.

Have you ever been scammed?

If so, how did you manage this matter?

Do you have tips for others to avoid this stressful occurrence