Commercial and internet scams are common and often originate outside of Australia. Scams have a devastating financial and emotional impact on many Australians. Scam victims come from all ages and socio-economic backgrounds. Detailed information about scams, what to look out for and how to protect yourself from scams can be found in The Little Black Book of Scams published by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, Tel 1300 302 502, and SCAMwatch website. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade does not investigate international financial or internet crimes.
Scammers typically approach you asking for help, offering questionable business opportunities or pretending to be legitimate banks or businesses. All types of scams have one point in common – the targeted person is led to believe that he or she has a chance to attain something of personal value such as a financial reward, a romantic relationship, or employment in return for a small up-front monetary outlay. As a general rule, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Scammers want to take your money. In some cases, they do this by either calling or emailing you asking that you confirm banking details such as passwords and account numbers. Genuine organisations don't usually contact you out of the blue and don't ask for passwords or account numbers.
Scams evolve constantly, and we cannot include all scam variations here. We hope, however, that the below examples will help alert you to the indicators of some common scams and actions you should take.
The Nigerian letter or "419"
Named for the violation of Section 419 of the Nigerian Criminal Code, the 419 scam combines the threat of impersonation fraud with a variation of an advance fee scheme in which a letter, email, or fax is received by the potential victim.
The communication from individuals representing themselves as Nigerian or other foreign government officials offers the recipient the "opportunity" to share in a percentage of millions of dollars, seeking for help in placing large sums of money in overseas bank accounts.
Payment of taxes, bribes to government officials, and legal fees are often described in great detail with the promise that all expenses will be reimbursed as soon as the funds are out of the country. The recipient is encouraged to send information to the author, such as blank letterhead stationery, bank name and account numbers, and other identifying information using a facsimile number provided in the letter or an email address. The scheme relies on convincing a willing victim to send money to the author of the letter in several instalments of increasing amounts for a variety of reasons.
Business and employment scams
In these scams, criminals have been known to seek details of 'safe' bank accounts overseas in which to transfer large sums of money. The bank account owner is promised a commission for receiving a large sum of the money in their account which then has to be transferred to another account. Scammers do this because they claim his/her location outside Australia makes receiving these funds directly difficult. The seller asks the victim to act as a third party receiver of funds from other victims who have purchased products from the criminal via the Internet. The Australian citizen, receiving the funds from the victims, then wires the money to the criminal. Another scam involves scammers providing fake cashier cheques for 'urgent' shipments of large quantities of goods, request sizeable fees for a fake government contract or to supply crude oil and extort money from individuals they have convinced to travel overseas for a business opportunity. Some scams offer employment overseas, with large salaries and luxury accommodations. Up-front payment for work permits, visa and immigrations fees is asked for in order to secure the employment.
Another reported scam involves phone calls, SMS messages or emails to relatives and friends in Australia sometimes from bogus hospitals or doctors overseas claiming that an Australian traveller has been injured and money is required to be sent for medical treatment. Your relatives and friends in Australia should make sure that the contact is genuine as this is a common method of extorting money. Treat any requests for money from overseas with caution. Check the story through a web search or call the organisation back but only through a publicly advertised number such as yellow pages or other reputable directories. Do not use the contact details the potential scammer has sent you or the organisation's contact details given by the person requesting the information.
Hacked e-mail/social networking scams
In hacked e-mail scams, scammers access a victim's e-mail inbox – generally a free e-mail service such as Yahoo, Hotmail, or Gmail. In most cases, the true owner of the e-mail account gave his or her account information and password to the scammer in response to an official-looking request, supposedly from the site administrators. The scammer then changes the account password, locking the true account owner out of his or her inbox. The scammer then pretends to be the true owner of the account and sends messages to everyone in the victim's inbox or address book, saying he or she is in trouble abroad. The e-mail messages ask for financial assistance to get home. This scam also sometimes uses the victim's "friend list" on Facebook, MySpace or Twitter to solicit funds from friends and family.
Australians have also been defrauded or had their lives endangered by a bogus internet friendship, dating and marriage schemes operating outside Australia. These scams typically result from connections made through internet dating schemes or chat rooms. Once a virtual relationship develops, the Australian citizen is asked by their friend or prospective marriage partner to send money to enable travel to Australia or money to cover an emergency such as hospital visit or robbery. Once the money has been received or after repeated requests when there is no money left, the relationship is usually terminated and any chance of recovering the funds is highly unlikely. In some instances, foreigners who have travelled overseas to meet their friend or prospective marriage partner have been kidnapped and held to ransom.
The scammers make use of what appear to be Australian Government email addresses to send fraudulent emails to the Australian party, informing them that the friend or prospective marriage partner has been granted a visa to visit Australia to further the relationship. The message may include fake details of a non-existent visa.
There have been reports of scams targeting travellers to the United States of America. This involves the US Visa waiver program that requires an approved travel authorisation. This can be obtained online via the Electronic System for Travel Authorisation (ESTA), which is an online automated service available to citizens in certain countries, including Australia. The US Government charges a fee of US$14 for the mandatory ESTA. There are many websites claiming to be able to provide an ESTA, some charging more than US$14. There is also a concern that the personal details provided via these websites may involve identity fraud. Travellers are warned to be cautious as these websites can come up in an internet search and appear to be genuine. Information on ESTA and the Visa Waiver Program, plus a link to the official website, can be found on the Embassy of the United States of America in Australia website. See also our travel advice for the United States of America which includes a direct link to the ESTA application.
We have had reports of this type of scam for obtaining visas to other countries. There are a number of third parties that have established websites that charge a fee for submitting your application on your behalf. You should only apply through links or organisations recommended by the Embassy/High Commission/Consulate of the country you are going to visit. Once overseas, avoid individuals and companies advertising visa extension services, as they may stamp passports with fake or illegally obtained exit and entry stamps. In some countries such as Thailand, Australians with illegal stamps in their passports can be arrested and jailed for up to 10 years. Remember to read our travel advice for information on entry/exit requirements for your destination.
Major sporting events/festivals
Scammers can exploit the high demand for accommodation or tickets during major sporting events or popular festivals by setting up fake websites, posting fake ads for hotel rooms and holiday rentals on genuine websites, or offering fake accommodation/ticketing packages. The accommodation offered may not actually exist or be available. In previous rental and accommodation scams, scammers have posed as property owners, booking agents, or landlords and posted fake copies of genuine rental property advertisements on classified, accommodation and travel websites. If you respond to the fake ads the scammer will ask for upfront payments such as bond, rent payments or deposits in advance. Some scammers have also requested copies of personal identification documents, or other personal information which can be used to commit identity fraud. Victims never receive the keys to the property and the scammer disappears with their money. Beware also of websites offering scam ticket sales. The only secure way to buy a ticket is from the event’s official ticketing website or other authorized dealers.
Where to get help
If you are a victim of a financial scam, we advise you to contact your financial institution, obtain legal advice and not to travel overseas to seek restitution as there is a risk of physical assault from the perpetrators. Victims that have been defrauded and who travel to the originating country have had their lives endangered. Some victims have been killed. The Australian Federal Polices advises you to report the matter to your State/Territory Police Services and request that your report be forwarded to INTERPOL.
Once money is sent overseas it is virtually impossible to recover, however you are encouraged to report scams, scammers and fakes to the Australian Government's SCAMwatch website or phone 1300 795 995.
Reporting scams/fraud to authorities overseas
- If you believe the perpetrator is in Nigeria, report it to the Nigerian Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) by visiting their website.
- If you believe the perpetrator is in South Africa, report it to The Commercial Branch, South African Police Service by email, fax +27-12-393-3003, or tel. +27-12-309-3866. You must send a copy of your a police report along with all other information.
- If you believe the perpetrator is in the Philippines, report it to the Cyber Crime Unit, Criminal Investigations Detection Group (CDIG) or tel. +63 2 723 0401, extension 5513.
- If you believe the perpetrator is in the United Kingdom, report it to the Metropolitan Police.
- If you believe the perpetrator is in Canada, you may report it to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Call Centre.
- If you believe the perpetrator is in the United States or if you are in the United States, you may file a complaint with the Internet Crime Complaint Center.
- If you believe the perpetrator is in another country, contact the embassy of that country in Canberra.
In case of an emergency overseas, you can obtain consular assistance from the nearest Australian Embassy, High Commission or Consulate. If you are unable to contact an Australian diplomatic mission, you can contact the 24-hour Consular Emergency Centre on +61 2 6261 3305 or 1300 555 135 within Australia.