Medicare scam Australia: How Victorian woman almost fell for elaborate phishing scam

Medicare scam Australia: How Victorian woman almost fell for elaborate phishing scam

Chantel was battling COVID and the near-freezing temperatures of inland Victoria when she received an innocuous text message.

Within hours, a smooth-talking scammer would be seconds away from pilfering his bank account.

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She is one of the thousands of Australians being targeted by scammers via SMS every week.

Earlier this month, the consumer watchdog said that text-based scams had become the most prevalent platform.

So, when Chantel received a text purporting to be from Medicare, she told 7NEWS.com.au she didn’t think it was that far from the ordinary.

The text Chantel received. The number it was sent from appears to have been spoofed by scammers. Credit: Supplied

“I didn’t go over the message with a fine-tooth comb or anything like that,” she said.

“I had all the COVID symptoms and so I wasn’t really thinking clearly.”

The text read: “You have been in close contact with someone who has encountered Omicron. You must book a free PCR Test kit.”

It then has a link that purports to direct the recipient to the Medicare website.

For a $1.49 fee, the website says it will send a COVID test to Chantel’s door.

But within minutes of paying the charge, her phone lit up. When she didn’t answer it once, it ranks again.

“The phone rank twice, one straight after the other, so I thought it must be really important,” she said.

“He had a British accent and spoke quite well.

“He told me it was a scam that was going around and that the bank was going to protect me.”

The man on the other end of the phone told Chantel that he was from Westpac and the bank had intercepted a scam.

The text messages Chantel received on the morning she was scammed. The missed call is a number impersonating Westpac. Credit: Supplied

He said that the $1.49 she’d attempted to pay was about to become far more pricey.

“They’re trying to put through $1000, we need to stop that right now,” Chantel says she was told.

“I asked how would I know that he wasn’t a scammer and he told me to Google the number he was calling from. Sure enough, it came up that it was under Westpac.

Chantel provided 7NEWS.com.au with her phone log.

When the number that called her is searched, the first result is Westpac’s support centre.

“They got my trust,” she said.

Then came the next phase of the con.

“He said that I would receive a text with a verification code, then he said ‘I need it’,” Chantel recalled.

“The text came up straight away but I was still a bit unsure, so he asked whether I had a landline so I could’ve called the bank to confirm.

“So I told him ‘I’ll hang up and call the bank now’ and that’s when I heard a clunk and he’d gone.”

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New ‘cheap television’ scam targeting ALDI shoppers.

New ‘cheap television’ scam targeting ALDI shoppers.

It was only then that the penny dropped and Chantel realized the man she’d been talking to was a scammer.

“I wasn’t 100 per cent convinced but if I had to put a number on it, he had me 95 per cent.

“It wasn’t until he hung up on me that I went ‘he’s the hacker’.”

Westpac says it would never ask users for the verification code for payments.

“You may also be asked to share Westpac Protect SMS Codes sent to your mobile,” the bank says.

“This code should not be shared with anyone. It is used to authenticate payments or access features such as increasing your daily payment limit in online banking.”

She says the experience has left her rattled and says awareness needs to be raised as to how crafty potential scammers can be.

“It really did shake me. I’m 46 and use social media all the time, but I could see so easily how people fall for this sort of thing.”

Paul Haskell-Dowland, Professor of Cyber ​​Security Practice at Edith Cowan University, said there should be “absolutely no shame” in being targeted in a scam.

“There’s certainly a bit of a stereotype around this, and one of the things that I always say is that there is no shame in being scammed,” he said.

“These scammers are professionals. The people doing this are cyber criminals, in most cases there are criminal groups, and they are highly organized.”

The federal government has sounded the alarm over the scam. Pictured is the website the ‘Medicare’ link direct recipients to. Credit: Australian Services

He said there was one reason scams continued to circulate – they work.

“The reason that people still get these phone calls and SMS messages is because it still works.

“Because they’ve evolved their practices to the level that they are extremely convincing.

“I’ve received many of these calls that everybody does and, yes, there are lots where you look at them and then no one could possibly form for that but there are so many really, really good ones.

“And now I’ve seen very highly targeted ones that would be extremely convincing to even someone who is aware of these kind of scams.”

He offered a glimpse behind the scenes of how the con operates.

“It’s very, very hard to distinguish between a genuine campaign to give you information or to warn you about threats, or to advise you of the need to get tested versus the dodgy operators who have invested a lot of time and their money into being convincing ,” Haskell-Dowland said.

“And when you do get to talk to people, these are highly trained call center operators, it’s not one person in a room.

“It could be hundreds of people in a call centre, typically located overseas, who will just be going through the motions with potentially hundreds of people at the same time and the minute they finish with one caller, they move on to the next.”

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ACCC Deputy Chair Delia Rickard said text messages had become the most comment form of contact for scammers.

“If you receive an unexpected text message or phone call from someone offering you an opportunity to invest, it is likely a scam and you should immediately hang up or delete the message,” she said.

The latest statistics reported to the ACCC said more than $205 million was lost to scams from the start of the year until May 1.

That’s a 166 per cent increase compared to the same period last year.

But Haskell-Dowland says the true figure is likely to be far higher.

“So few people now check their bank statements regularly,” he said.

“You know, unless it’s a major amount, you can often just hide in the background.”

He says there are often key indicators that can tip off whether a phone call is a scam or not.

The most effective way, he says, is to do exactly what Chantel did – call the institution the person on the other end of the line purports to represent.

“Most organizations won’t phone you and say there’s a problem or you need to provide your details or some other type of verification.

“That will be a very unusual practice.

“But it’s hard to say that that’s a definitive recommendation, because in some cases you may well be approached, for example by your bank through their fraud department to tell you that there’s a problem.

“But going through a number that you know is genuine, and whether that’s the number on the back of the debit card, whether it’s the number in your online banking interface, but using some verifiable communication means that will give you the reassurance that you are talking to the genuine bank.”

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