Guarding your personal information
According to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s (ACCC) Scamwatch website, almost $200,000,000 has been lost to scams over the first half of 2023 in Australia alone — sadly, this amount is predicted to increase each year.
At RSPCA Pet Insurance, we take your privacy seriously and work hard to make sure your personal information is secure. But no matter what safeguards we have in place, awareness will always be the best weapon against the rising threat of scams.
Sniffing out the threat
Have you been contacted by someone you don’t know? Have you been offered an amazing deal, or asked to perform a seemingly simple task by a stranger? Be cautious, it could be a scam.
Scams can be disguised as an offer of easy money, a fantastic bargain, exclusive knowledge or even a rare breed of dog or cat for a discounted price, but they are all designed to trick you out of your hard-earned money or steal your personal information.
Once obtained, scammers can use your identity to commit fraudulent activities such as using your credit card or opening a bank account, or even committing crime.
Most scams fall into the following categories:
- Buying or selling scams trick potential victims into handing over your money for fake products or services, usually through fake websites that look like the real thing, or by sending you authentic-looking invoices for things you’ve never ordered. For prospective pet-parents, scams around dogs and cats are becoming increasingly common, with scammers posing as a breeder of purebred dogs or cats and offering to sell you a pet at a reduced price.
- Dating and romance scams are designed to trick people looking for new romantic partners by creating fake profiles to lure potential victims, then use emotional triggers to convince them to provide money, gifts, or their personal details.
- Charity scams impersonate genuine charities, asking for donations that are linked to natural disasters or other major events such as the 2018/2019 bushfires or the heavy NSW flooding of 2022.
- Investment scams offer potential victims an easy way to make money through fake opportunities such as a property or business deal with a guaranteed high-return, or gambling systems that “can’t miss”.
- Jobs and employment scams are designed to trick you into paying for exclusive training or guaranteed access to a dream role that bypasses your need to have the necessary qualifications or experience.
- Threats and extortion scams often occur when scammers pretend to be from the police or government, threatening to release sensitive information about you, imprison you, or even threaten your life if you don’t hand over money or your personal information.
- Unexpected money scams use seemingly legitimate offers of money, such as an inheritance from a distant relative or a request from a stranger who wants to move a large windfall out of their country to avoid high taxation, but require potential victims to hand over their personal information or pay a fee to release the funds.
- Remote access scams convince potential victims to hand over control of their computer or other device to fix a problem, with scammers often pretending to be from your electricity or gas company, or internet or phone provider.
- Unexpected win scams trick you into handing over money or your personal information to receive a prize from a lottery or competition that you have never entered.
Scams can find their way to you via email, SMS or instant messaging, on a dating website or social media platform like Facebook or TikTok, video calls such as Skype or FaceTime, online surveys, or even a USB drive posted to your address.
Cyber Security FAQsFrequently Asked Questions
When it comes to your online safety, always follow these hints and tips:
- Never share your PIN, security codes or passwords with anyone.
- Never write your password down and leave it where someone else might find it, such as your computer or on the fridge.
- Never click on any links in unsolicited emails or text messages. Known as phishing, clicking on these links can give scammers access to your electronic device, allowing them to steal personal information such as your passwords, bank details and credit card numbers. These links often look legitimate, but take you to a fraudulent website.
- At any time, be aware that the accounts of your friends or other contacts could be compromised and controlled by a third party. Before clicking on any link, no matter who it’s from, always move your mouse over the link to see where the link will take you to. If anything looks suspicious, confirm with the sender by contacting them through a different channel of communication.
- Never reply to an email or text message that asks for your personal information. Verify any request with the sender by contacting them directly through a different communication channel.
- Never give anyone access to your computer remotely, especially if you have been contacted out of the blue by someone you don’t know.
- Ensure your electronic devices are secured using biometric features such as Two-Factor Authentication (thumbprint or facial recognition), and always make sure your anti-virus software is up to date.
- Never use an obvious password, such as your birthday or your pet or child’s name, as a scammer can easily work these out by searching your social media accounts. Consider using a password generator to create unique, complex passwords for your devices and accounts. Change your passwords regularly and don’t reuse the same password on more than one account or device.
- Never store your passwords on a browser. Use a password manager to store them securely instead.
- Avoid connecting to a public Wi-Fi network. If you must use public Wi-Fi, never conduct any banking or login to websites that require your personal details.
- Never use a USB drive unless you know where it came from.
- Don’t answer calls from any phone numbers that you don’t recognise.
- Be wary of any business that requests an unusual payment method, such as direct fund transfer, money order, pre-loaded card, wire transfer, gift cards, or cryptocurrency. Confirm the request with the sender by contacting them directly through a different communication channel.
- Be wary of any new friend requests or potential romantic partners who ask for money or gifts soon after meeting them.
- Avoid any offer that pressures you into making a decision.
- If you’ve received an offer that seems too good to be true, it probably is — this could include things like high-end fashion or popular electronic devices at bargain-basement prices, or a once-in-a-lifetime return on investment.
- If we send you an SMS or email, it will clearly identify us and provide a contact number. If you ever doubt about any message you receive from us, always go directly to our website by typing rspcapetinsurance.com.au into a new browser window rather than clicking on any links in an email or SMS. It’s always better to safe, rather than sorry.
While not a scam, a data breach can do just as much damage and requires the same strong action if your personal information is compromised.
Data breaches occur when information being held by a bank, medical facility, educational institution, government department or commercial business has their online security breached, exposing confidential records and databases to scammers and other criminals.
Hearing that your personal information has been involved in a data breach can be highly-stressful, but you can minimise any damage by taking the following steps:
1. Confirm – When hearing about a breach, either directly or on the news, contact the affected party directly to make sure you aren’t being targeted by a scam. An easy way to learn if your phone number or email address has been affected is to use a tool like Have I Been Pwned?
2. Scan – Once you’ve confirmed that your information has been exposed, scan for malware on your phone, computer and other devices to make sure they aren’t infected with a virus.
3. Assess – Next, determine what sensitive information has been exposed. Depending on the type of breach, this can be confirmed by contacting the breached party for more information or reading related news stories. For example, if the breach occurred at your bank, it would be safe to assume that your financial information (account details, identifying information, etc) is at risk, and you should take steps to secure it.
4. Reset – You will also need to change the passwords for all of your online accounts, even those that weren’t involved in the breach. If any account uses your email address, name or other sensitive information to identify you, you should change the password.
5. Observe – After your passwords have been changed and you’ve performed a virus scan on all devices, keep monitoring your accounts at least every few days for suspicious activity.
Be your own watchdog
While it’s almost impossible to protect yourself from falling for a scam, knowing how scammers work can significantly reduce your risk of becoming a victim.
To help educate yourself, Scamwatch and the Australian Cyber Security Centre (ACSC) provide comprehensive information on how to spot and protect yourself from scams, including a number of real-life stories on their website about Australians who’ve been scammed and how they resolved their issue. You can also subscribe for email alerts about the latest scams, or follow @Scamwatch_gov on Twitter for up-to-date alerts.
For more detailed information on what to do if you fall victim to a scam, the Scamwatch website has a host of invaluable resources and a list of organisations that you can speak to if you need more help.
If you’re concerned that you’ve been scammed by someone impersonating RSPCA Pet Insurance, please contact us immediately. The sooner we know about your situation, the sooner we can take steps to minimise any further damage.