New South Wales Fair Trading has urged consumers in the state to come forward and report online and door-to-door scammers as it warns that the 1000 scam reports received by the regulator this year are “just the tip of the iceberg”.
Speaking at the Norton Cybercrime 2012 report launch in Sydney, NSW Fair Trading assistant commissioner, Robert Vellar, said that people tend not to report scams because they are embarrassed and may not want to be interrogated by an investigator, give evidence or go to court.
“It is extremely important to us that we get information from the community about scammers because that’s how we assess the scams and can build an education campaign to alert other consumers to the nastiness at hand,” he said.
According to Vellar, the scams reported to NSW Fair Trading range from itinerant conmen/conwomen offering building and home maintenance work to online false billing, bank refund and wealth creation rip offs.
“The Travelling Conman campaign is something that was started in October 2011 by Fair Trading. We’ve charged 25 individuals with 120 breaches of the law. About 40 have been foreign criminals, predominately from Ireland, with in excess of $300,000 worth of fines and court costs,” he said.
Turning to online scammers, Vellar conceded that individuals and groups make the most of technological changes and adapt very quickly.
For example, the regulator received a report from a woman in NSW who was continually called by a telemarketer who claimed she needed to buy anti-virus software and asked for remote access to the woman’s computer.
“Her method of dealing with this is that she now engages in small talk with the person for 15 minutes and then tells the telemarketer she doesn’t have a computer,” he said.
This scam is similar to the Windows Event Viewer scam which first came to Computerworld Australia’s attention in 2009 and is still ongoing.
The scam involves telemarketers requesting the recipient's authority to run a Windows program by the same name in order to fix bugs in the operating system. Other callers claim they can remove the virus for a fee and ask for people's credit card details.
Vellar added that some phone scams use Internet based telephony services that can produce a number which looks like the scammer is ringing from a Sydney number when in fact they are calling from overseas.
In addition, Fair Trading received reports during August this year from some parts of regional NSW where scammers were ringing up, pretending to be from Fair Trading and asking questions in order to facilitate money from unsuspecting consumers.
“We have had some success in prosecuting people and getting convictions or jail terms through the Supreme Court,” he said. “Many of those cases have been for [online] deception and misleading conduct from scammers who are Australian based.”
Vellar conceded that the regulator needed to adapt and play in the online world of the scammers.
NSW Fair Trading entered into the application world last year with the Scam Buster app for Android and iOS powered phones.
The app alerts people to scams but also allows them to report scams to the regulator.
Vellar added that he was concerned at the increase prevalence of scams brought to NSW Fair Trading’s attention, as well as those reported by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC)
“The ACCC published on their website that they have received reports of over 83,000 scams this year and that’s a figure that has almost doubled since 2010,” he said.
His advice for consumers for dealing with scammers was “press delete, throw it out, hang up the phone and shut the door”.
In August this year, the Australian Crime Commission (ACC) and Australia Post began sending out letters to 10 million Australian households warning that organised criminal groups were targeting the savings of Australians through investment frauds using cold calling tactics and legitimate looking websites. It followed on from the ACC’s Serious and Organised Investment in Australia report released in July this year which found that criminals had conned 2600 Australians out of $113 million in the past five years.