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People are still being duped by dishonesty because schemes are becoming more sophisticated

Date: 2008-04-04

INCREASINGLY sophisticated and ``corporatised'' scammers are ripping off
Australians to the tune of $700 million a year, with lonely hearts the
latest target.
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission says people are still
being duped by dishonesty because schemes are becoming more sophisticated,
technology is available to reach a wider audience and approaches are
becoming more believable.

``The inheritance letters you get are not the dumb ones we used to get that
used to have spelling mistakes, they start to seem legitimate to people,''
ACCC deputy chair Louise Sylvan said. ``The criminals are getting more
sophisticated so more people are now getting caught out.''

She said the latest ACCC research suggested Australians were losing up to
$700 million a year to scams, while the latest British figure was pound stg.
3.5 billion ($7.6 billion).

Ms Sylvan said a number of scammers in places such as Nigeria and Europe had
now turned to romance scams - sometimes using dating web sites, or just an
email introduction. ``They spend quite a bit of time establishing the
relationship,'' she said. This often also included internet telephone calls
that appeared to come from within Australia but actually originated

``They've developed a relationship through email and telephone and never
sighted each other.

``Then they say they're in trouble and ask for money to help them out and
when you've got that relationship developed already it's obvious people will
come to their assistance and they do.''

Ms Sylvan said scams still came in many forms and people needed to be extra

``It can be as simple as clicking on a computer pop-up for a prize that
sends a virus to your computer, or entering a competition that seems
legitimate but is really collecting information to steal your money or your
identity, or responding to that email offering from a lonely soul seeking
companionship,'' she said.

``Whether its offers of easy money, great prizes or true love, these
sophisticated scammers have learned how to push people's buttons and get a
response. "

``Consumers must protect themselves. The key rules are never give your
personal information out to unsolicited requests - either online, by email
or by phone, and never click on a link in an unsolicited email."

``The level of organisation and almost corporatisation of this crime has
really increased very, very substantially, which is why it's worrying us a
lot more.''

According to the South Australian police, 31 per cent of all scams
registered with the Commercial and Electronic Crime Branch related to dating
and friendship scams.

South Australian Minister for Consumer Affairs Jennifer Rankine said people
should think twice about giving any assistance to people they've encountered
in these types of situations ``because they could find their life's savings
are siphoned within seconds''.

``If you're ever in doubt, delete or destroy any email you receive that
looks dubious - for example the subject line could look suspicious or you
don't recognise the sender - it is safest to delete it without opening it,''
she said.

* New Zealand authorities this month issued a warning about an international
``hitman scam'' warning recipients they would be killed if they did not pay
thousands of dollars to a cyber extortionist. The email suggested someone
wanted the recipient dead and had hired the writer to kill them but the
contract could be cancelled if they paid up to $85,000.

* Sensis this month issued a warning about a sweepstake scam being mailed to
people and businesses announcing they were the lucky winner of an $80,000
prize from Yellow Pages or Yellow Pages 21st Century. People received an
initial cheque as part payment of the prize and were asked to provide their
bank details to have the full prize deposited into their account.

* A woman using internet provider addresses in Melbourne, Sydney, Adelaide
and Brisbane ripped thousands of dollars off mothers and concert lovers for
at least three years in an online scam, claiming to sell children's items
and concert tickets. The money was deposited in the woman's bank account but
the promised goods were never delivered.

* Australian investors last year lost more than $2 million after being lured
by cold callers into investing in a bogus offshore options trading scam. The
calls came from a fictitious London firm and were even supported by an
official-looking website called the Dubai Options Exchange. Funds were
transferred to a bank account in Malaysia


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