By Michael Gray
Unlike real snakes, cyber snakes are quite charming. They offer to help you. They promise great riches. They pretend to be someone you know and trust.
In fact, they’re so charming, they managed to defraud over $300 million from individuals and small and medium businesses in Australia last year.
The digital world allows scammers to create what appear to be quite legitimate ‘shop fronts.’ A beautiful website can easily hide the ugly truth about their business operation. A sophisticated marketing campaign might appear to be legitimate, but of course anyone can produce professional advertising images and push them out through the social channels you visit on a daily basis.
Investment scams have been with us for centuries. The reason they’ve survived, in different shapes and forms, is because a lot of human behaviours are hard-wired. Someone who understands our hopes, fears and dreams, and how we view the world, knows how to use those things against us.
In the current environment, where people are looking to improve their position post pandemic, scammers are stepping up their efforts. So, remember, if an opportunity lands in your email inbox that looks too good to be true, it probably is.
The easiest way to protect yourself is to ignore unsolicited emails. Don’t open the email, don’t reply. If you receive an unsolicited investment phone call, hang up. The ACCC website is an excellent source of advice and has tips on scams. It’s also a good idea to develop a strong relationship with a trusted adviser who can help you identify any potential scams.
Some scams are more subtle and look for ways to steal personal details so that financial information can be hacked. We have seen this kind of approach firsthand.
Recently a client of ours bought a property for a substantial sum of money. There were a number of emails involved in managing this transaction to ensure that payment was lodged in a trust account set up by the lawyer. However, on the final day, when the client was out of town, we received an email from the client telling us that the account numbers had changed, and the payment now needed be deposited into an alternative account.
Following our strict security protocols, we rang the client to confirm the changes. He told us that he had no knowledge of the email. It turned out his email had been hacked about a year ago, and the scammers were watching and waiting for their moment. When they saw that our client was on holidays they made their move.
Fortunately, because we automatically checked before doing anything, the scammer failed.
Investment scams can target anyone. It’s important to stay alert, and to work with trusted firms who are just as vigilant.