Aussies lose millions to computer takeover scams

Keep your computer and smartphone safe from scammers.

In the first half of 2021, scammers stole more than $7.2 million from Australians by gaining access to home computers, a 184% increase from 2020.

More than 6500 Australians reported phone calls from scammers trying to convince them to download software that gives access to home computers and their bank accounts.

Commonly called remote access scams, scammers pretend to be from well-known organisations such as Telstra, eBay, NBN Co, Amazon, banks, government organisations, police, and computer and IT support organisations. 

Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) Deputy Chair Delia Rickard said scammers often created a sense of urgency to make you give them access to your computer via remote access software.

“Remote access scams are one of the largest growing scam types in Australia,” Ms Rickard said.

“Scammers take advantage of the digital world and the fear of fraud and cybercrime to access people’s devices and steal their money.

“These types of scams target and impact all people and can be convincing.”

These scams will often come in the form of an unexpected phone call saying you’ve been billed for a purchase you didn’t make, your device has been compromised, or your account has been hacked. 

Sometimes they start with an SMS, email or pop-up on a screen from a scammer seeking urgent contact to fix a problem.

The scammer will pretend to assist you or ask you to assist them to catch the scammer. They will tell you to download remote control software such as AnyDesk or TeamViewer. 

Once the scammer controls your computer or device, they will ask you to log into applications such as emails, internet banking or PayPal accounts, allowing the scammer to access your banking and personal information to impersonate you or steal their money.

“It is really important not to let anyone who contacts you out of the blue access your devices, as once you give them access, you have no way of knowing what the person will do to your computer or what programs they may install,” Ms Rickard said.

“If you receive contact from someone claiming to be from a telecommunications company, a technical support service provider or online marketplace, hang up. 

“If you think the communication may have been legitimate, independently source the contact details for the organisation to contact them. Don’t use the contact details in the communication.  Also, don’t click on any of the links.”

Ms Rickard said legitimate organisations would never ask for your passwords or login details.

“Your bank will never ask you to give them access to your computer or accounts, nor will they ask for the codes to verify transactions,” Ms Rickard said. 

“You should never provide those numbers to anyone except to verify transactions you are making in your mobile banking app or through your online banking.”

Contact your bank immediately if you think you have been scammed and delete any apps that a suspected scammer has asked you to install.

Support in recovering from scams, including how to check if your identity and computer are secure, is available through IDCARE on 1800 595 160.

The information in this article has been prepared for general information purposes only and not as specific advice to any particular person. Any advice contained in the document is general advice and does not take into account any person's particular investment objectives, financial situation or needs.  Before acting on anything based on this advice you should consider its appropriateness to you, having regard to your objectives, financial situations and needs. The information referenced from the ACCC is © Commonwealth of Australia.