Scammers target Australians relying on COVID-19 disaster payments

Government Services Minister Linda Reynolds said scammers targeting pandemic-impacted Australians was a
Government Services Minister Linda Reynolds said scammers targeting pandemic-impacted Australians was a "low act". Picture: Sitthixay Ditthavong

Scammers have pocketed thousands of dollars by preying on vulnerable Australians already financially damaged by the coronavirus pandemic.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission and a slew of major banks have identified scamming activity relating to COVID-19 payments provided by both state and federal governments.

Some cases have involved scammers pretending to be the government and asking for financial details under the guise of providing someone a COVID-19 disaster relief payment.

In some instances, these shams have been targeting people on welfare payments seeking increased support and workers out of a job due to lockdowns.

According to the ACCC, 69 cases of COVID-19 payments have already been recorded and in four cases, more than $37,000 was stolen.

Commonwealth Bank has also recorded an uptick in scamming activity during the nation's third COVID-19 wave, with scams occurring via phone calls and online.

The major bank confirmed it had noticed a pick up in scamming activity since the greater Sydney lockdown began, while Westpac flagged a number of remote access scams had been circulating during the pandemic.

CBA head of retail Angus Sullivan said the scamming and phishing activity was mostly targeting locked-down areas.

"There's obviously been an uptick in the level of scammer activity," he said.

"The scammers are using some of the Covid payments ... (like) 'hey, click here to access your Covid support payment' type of scam."

Government Services Minister Linda Reynolds said scammers targeting vulnerable Australians relying on income support and disaster relief payments was a "low act".

"The agency is acutely aware of the unfortunate risk of scams and provides secure ways of claiming online," Ms Reynolds said.

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"[Services Australia] will never contact customers about a new claim for payment if they have not applied first online, over the phone or in a service centre."

The ACCC said the majority of shams occurred via Facebook Messenger, followed by email and then text message.

"Always type the myGov URL directly into your browser," an ACCC spokesperson said.

"Do not click on links or open attachments from emails/SMS/social media if they appear suspicious - myGov is the secure way to access government services online."

Westpac's head of fraud Ben Young said separation while in lockdown had made people more prone to scamming.

"Being separated from others while in lockdown, experiencing changes to your employment and spending more time transacting online can make us more vulnerable to scammers," Mr Young said.

"Our research shows that in the last year, self-employed Australians and those who were looking for work were twice as likely to have been scammed."

Mr Young also noted remote access scams, which attempted to target personal information, usually impersonated a well-known business or a government organisation.

A person who has been scammed should contact their bank immediately to ensure access to an account can be secured.

Services Australia also has a dedicated scams and identity theft helpline: 1800 941 126.

Scams can also be reported to the ACCC.

This story Scammers target virus payments of vulnerable Australians first appeared on The Canberra Times.

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