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Cyber-attacks: Hacks and scams

Over recent weeks the news has been inundated with reports of the cyber-attack and theft of customer personal information from Optus, one of Australia’s key phone and data providers.

Fortunately, I have not received a text from Optus advising me that any of my personal information has been accessed however my wife, and two of my sons have both received the “text”.

Many Optus customers have provided personal information to identify themselves when applying for a service. This personal information may have included a copy of a driver licence, passport, or Medicare details. All vital information often used to identify ourselves on a daily basis.

Armed with enough of our personal information, the “bad guys” can open accounts and apply for credit using our stolen identity. While stolen identity can be managed, it is inconvenient, stressful, and generally interrupts everyday Australians from getting on with their daily life.

Fortunately, the various State governments have put in place processes to enable their citizens affected by the Optus data breach to replace their driver licence, generally at little or no cost to the individual. However, having to replace vital identity documents is an inconvenience most of us could do without.

The Optus date breach was not the only piece of news to hit mainstream media in recent weeks.

Some readers may have seen news reports of a call centre in the Philippines being raided by the Philippines National Police, Anti-Cybercrime Group.

This scam involved Australian self-managed superannuation funds being targeted by a very sophisticated criminal group offering access to a range of investments.

It is still early days, but it will be interesting to see how this investigation develops.

Sadly, I suspect there is very little chance of any of the stolen money being recovered, putting the retirement plans of many into jeopardy.

With such scams becoming increasing sophisticated and prevalent, what are some of the steps we can take to minimise the risk of being caught out?

Things to consider might include:

  1. Remember – if it sounds too good to be true, assume it is – there are numerous promoters of schemes out there that simply want to have us part with our hard-earned money.
  2. Don’t respond to unsolicited calls or offers – a cold call from a tele-marketer, despite how genuine they may seem, only has one thing on their mind, increasing their own income. These days I often don’t answer calls out of working hours when I don’t recognise the number, or the caller’s number is not displayed. If it is a genuine call, the caller can leave a message and I will get straight back to them. In my experience tele-marketers rarely leave messages.
  3. Don’t click on links – hardly a day goes by without receiving an email or a text message inviting us to click on a link. Scammers are becoming very good at imitating the businesses we deal with regularly. If you receive an unexpected text message or an email from your bank, often with an element of urgency attached, avoid clicking on the link. Log into your bank or service providers website or call them.  
  4. Monitor your accounts – check your bank accounts on a regular basis to ensure there are no unfamiliar transactions. When scammers get access to your bank account, they will often start by making small withdrawals or purchases before hitting the account big time. Also keep an eye on your superannuation. Superannuation is often the largest investment a person has outside their family home. Monitoring your superannuation account on a regular basis will help to identify any illegal activity.

Taking care of our finances and keeping our identity safe will go a long way to protecting ourselves from illegal activity. A few moments taken each week monitoring our accounts may save many hours of grief and anguish if something does go wrong.

And remember, if you receive an offer that sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Author: Peter Kelly, Centrepoint Alliance | 12 October 2022

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