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Beware of online scams

Zoë Fielding

Email fraudsters are becoming extremely sophisticated.

On Wednesday, an email was circulating that claimed to be from the Australian Taxation Office.

It advised recipients not to respond but rather to refer to an initial notification that had previously been sent. It included an attachment, which the victim would have presumed to contain the previous email, which was said to contain instructions on what to do next.

In fact, the attachment contained malware designed to attack the victim’s computer.

Phishing scams are common and most people are now used to ignoring request from random princes and notifications that they’ve won a lottery in Siberia that they never knew they’d entered.

Often scamsters use the names of known businesses, such as the major banks, to lure their victims. But usually, there are warning signs.

For a start, reputable organisations will never send email requests for you to enter personal details.

The email address the message comes from (as opposed to the name that is displayed) is often different from, if close to, that of the legitimate business. However, in the case of the phoney ATO email above, the email address ended in @ato.gov.au, which is the true format for messages from the real Tax Office. So don’t rely on that as a reassurance.

Emails may contain grammatical errors or may be poorly formatted. Again, the ATO email was formatted well and copied the disclaimer that appears on the bottom of legitimate ATO email correspondence.

The advice the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s SCAMwatch website gives can be boiled down to this: treat any unsolicited email with suspicion and never give out personal information, or bank or credit card details to anyone you don’t know and trust.

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