Imagine you’re sitting at home having dinner when the phone rings.
You answer and the person on the line says they’re from Medicare.
They know your name and address, and they tell you you’re owed a Medicare refund.
All you need to do is make a small initial payment to cover administration fees, and they’ll deposit the rebate into your bank account.
What would you do?
“Hang up the phone,” said Emma Cuthbert, from the Department of Human Services.
“This is a scam. We’d never ask you to pay us money to issue you with a rebate. If you hand over your money you’ll be left out of pocket.
“If scammers get your credit card or banking details, they can drain your accounts or rack up thousands of dollars in charges.”
Last year, scammers used tactics like this to take more than $21.4 million dollars from Australians aged over 65.
Telephone scams can seem very convincing, especially when the scammer knows details about you. They might claim to be from well-known organisations, and try to get you to act quickly, or give them your personal information.
This Scams Awareness Week, the Department of Human Services is providing information to help older Australians protect themselves.
How the department can help you
Emma has been working on the department’s Scams and Identity Theft Helpdesk since it opened in May 2018.
“It’s so important to keep your personal information secure, and not to freely share it without verifying who’s asking for it and why they need it,” Emma said.
“Our website has lots of great information to help you identify, report and protect yourself against scams pretending to be from us.
“If you need tailored support, staff on our helpdesk can provide expert advice on how to protect your personal information, and can confirm if information you’ve received about our services is a scam.
“We also support customers who responded to a scam, which may include adding additional security measures to their records.”
Emma said they get calls from people who’ve been contacted from someone claiming to be from our department but they aren’t sure.
“They hang up and call us, so we can check to see if the call was genuine or not,” she said.
“This is exactly the right action to take.
“We do call, SMS or email people from time to time, and may ask questions to confirm they are speaking to the correct person. But our staff never ask you to provide personal information or documents by email, text message or social media.”
What to look out for
Although text messages and emails are common ways for scammers to contact people, Delia Rickard, Deputy Chair at the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) said older Australians are still most commonly scammed over the phone.
“It’s easy to get access to landline numbers, and older people are more likely to have a landline and be home to answer the phone,” Delia said.
Emma added a lot of people call the department’s helpdesk after noticing suspicious activity in their online accounts, or after responding to a scam.
“One of the most common scams older Australians call about is the promise of an increase in their pension.
“Scammers promise back payment of their pension, but only after they pay a small application fee using gift cards. People may also be told the application fee will be refunded later.
“All this combined means these scams are more likely to be successful.
“Other signs it could be a scam are when the caller tells you a debt needs to paid immediately over the phone and threatens you with legal action or fines if you don’t comply.”
What to do if you think you’ve been scammed
If you think your identity documents might have been compromised, Emma said people should contact the department’s Scams and Identity Theft Helpdesk on 1800 941 126.
“People who call the helpdesk can sometimes be embarrassed to talk about their experience,” she said.
“They may ring to say they want a new Medicare card, but they don’t want to say why. When we slowly unpack what has happened, it becomes clear they’ve been scammed.
“It’s important for people to know they’re not the only ones to fall victim to scams.”
Delia also encouraged people to report scams to Scamwatch.
“Scamwatch is a place for people to report the scams they see, whether they’re a victim or not. The easiest way to do this is using our online form at scamwatch.gov.au,” said Delia,
“It helps the ACCC let Australians know the scams doing the rounds, how to avoid them and what to do if they see one.
“Sharing your experiences of scams with friends, neighbours and relatives can help protect to protect them in the future.”