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Online scams cost Australians millions of dollars each year and anyone can be targeted. 

What are online scams?

Online scams are sophisticated messages, often using professional looking brands and logos to look like they come from a business you know. At first sight this can make it difficult for you to know what is real and what is fake.

A scam message can be sent by email, SMS, dating sites, social networking sites, instant messaging or even through videophone communications such as Skype or FaceTime.

What to look out for

Scammers use different tactics to try to win your trust. They can find out a lot about you from your social media profiles before approaching you as a friend or potential romantic partner. 

In winning you over, a scammer will work hard to get you to reveal more personal details about yourself – where you live, work, your family members, past relationships or financial circumstances. Once they have this information, they can use it to steal your identity or blackmail you into giving them money.

Some scams involve asking you for money upfront, to help with an ‘emergency’ or to pay for equipment or services. Scammers may even impersonate a friend or business you communicate with online, to try and convince you of their story.

Common online scams

To help keep you safe, the following links provide information on common scam types, advice on what to look out for and what you can do to protect yourself:

It's a Scam: How the Scammers Trick Us

Professor David Lacey, Chair of Cyber Security at the University of the Sunshine Coast, and Professor Monica Whitty, cyber psychologist at the University of Melbourne, give some insights into how scammers can trick us:

Top tips

If you think you have encountered a scam:

  • Talk about your concerns with a friend, family member or colleague. This can help you do a quick sanity check and reframe your thinking, because some scams work by playing on your emotions.
  • Check the scam’s legitimacy directly with the organisation it claims to be from, by using contact details sourced separately from the business’ official website (and not using any contact details from the message itself).

Top tips that often indicate it’s a scam:

  • It asks you to click on a link to ‘confirm’ your details.
  • It’s not addressed to you personally.
  • There’s a sense of urgency about the message.

In searching for a business’s official website or other pages, have a look online for any reviews from other people that may confirm it’s a scam.

You can also create a ‘not sure’ folder in your mailbox, where you drag suspicious messages to go through at a later time, perhaps with the help of someone you trust.

Remember some scams attempt to hijack your logical thinking by telling you to act urgently. Reframe your thinking by reviewing these messages the day or week after you receive them.

Get help

If you think you’ve been scammed, don’t feel embarrassed or helpless. Head to our Get Help page for steps you can take quickly to protect yourself from further harm, report the scam, or seek assistance if you’ve been the victim of identity theft.