Remote access computer scams on the rise, with $7.2M lost in 2021

Jul 13, 2021
Computer hackers can be convincing. Source: Getty

Australians are being warned to watch out for scammers impersonating well-known organisations attempting to take control of computers in order to access bank accounts. The increasingly popular scam has cost Aussies $7.2 million so far this year and, once again, it’s older Australians who’ve lost the most.

According to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s (ACCC) Scamwatch, the occurrence of remote access computer scams have increased by 184 per cent compared with the same period last year, with almost 6,500 Australians reporting phone calls from scammers trying to convince them to download software that gives access to home computers and their bank accounts.

Remote access software has been around for years, helping IT support to access computers remotely to fix issues, however, it seems scammers have started taking advantage of the ability to access computers and smartphones from afar.

The ACCC warned the scammers may pretend to be from well-known organisations, such as Telstra, eBay, NBN Co, Amazon, banks, government organisations, police, and computer and IT support organisations, and may create a sense of urgency, pressuring you into giving them access to your computer via remote access software.

Commonly, the scammers may claim you’ve been billed for a purchase you didn’t make, your device has been compromised, or your account has been hacked. It may initially come in the form of an SMS, email or pop-up on your device 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,” the ACCC warns. “They will tell you to download remote-control software such as AnyDesk or TeamViewer.

“Once the scammer has control of your computer or device, they will ask you to log into applications such as emails, internet banking or PayPal accounts, which will allow the scammer to access your banking and personal information to impersonate you or steal money.”

Delia Rickard, ACCC deputy chair, said this year alone, people over 55 have lost more than $4.4 million, accounting for almost half the total losses. Young people reported losing $20,000 each on average, and eight Indigenous Australians, some in remote communities, lost a total of $38,000.

Rickard said remote access scams are one of the largest growing scam types in the country, warning that if you are contacted by someone claiming to need access to your computer, ring the company directly ensuring you independently source the contact details rather than relying on what they may have sent you.

“These types of scams target and impact all people and can be convincing,” she said. “It is really important not to give anyone who contacts you out of the blue access your devices. 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.

“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.

“Remember, 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. 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.”

Anyone who thinks they may have been scammed should contact their bank or financial institution as soon as possible. If you have installed any apps or programs, the ACCC suggests deleting them from the device.

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

For tips on how to spot a scam phone caller, read this article by Starts at 60. To read about other financial scams, head here.

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