Commissioner's Blog: Watch out for payment interception scams

Making payments online is now a routine part of life for many consumers but we all need to stay vigilant both at home and in the workplace where interception scams continue to be an issue.

Many of us are already aware that we should take precautions when paying online for goods but consumers may not realise that payment scams can target anyone exchanging money, including business and property transactions.

Also known as a ‘man in the middle scam’, payment interception takes place when bank account details are changed, usually notified via emails, so the money ends up going into the wrong account.

Consumer Protection’s most recent warnings about these scams have related to ‘cyber-attacks’ that targeted the Western Australian real estate industry and settlement agents, but other industries, not-for-profit organisations, small businesses and even government agencies are targets.

Scammers hack in to email accounts and send messages from that email address, which are hidden within the system so the owner doesn’t see them, or from a different email address that looks almost identical so it is difficult to distinguish.

Losses can be significant, especially in the case of property transactions with consumers losing many thousands of dollars in deposits or final payments after being duped into sending the funds to a scammer’s bank account.

So a few minutes checking the validity of emails and bank account details first is well worth the effort. If you get an email advising of details for making a payment, including changes to bank account details, then call the agency or business to verify the details. But it is important not to use the contact details provided in the email as these could divert you to the scammers. Instead, use the contact information on previous correspondence or look them up online.

Reverting to arranging to make payment through a bank cheque instead or organising for your bank to complete the deposit if possible are also quick and simple ways to ensure the funds go to the intended recipient.

We’ve advised real estate agencies and settlement agents that they should inform their clients, including potential buyers or tenants, to phone them if they get an email requesting that money be sent to a particular account in order to verify its authenticity.

Like many scams, this one often starts with an email containing a dodgy link or attachment, which when clicked or opened downloads ‘spyware’ on to the computer, tablet or smartphone. This then opens the door for the scammers to access information they need to carry out the fraud.

So your best defence is not to click on links or open attachments unless they are from a known and trusted source. Anti-virus software and firewalls should also be up-to-date to help protect your computers and devices.

Anyone impersonated or targeted may have been the victim of hacking and needs to have their computer or device checked by a reputable technician.

‘Man in the middle scam’ attempts can be reported to our WA ScamNet team by calling 1300 30 40 54 or emailing wascamnet@dmirs.wa.gov.au,and more information about staying safe online is available at www.scamnet.wa.gov.au.

Successful fraud attempts should also be reported to the WA Police Major Fraud Squad on 131 444.

David Hillyard, Commissioner for Consumer Protection
David Hillyard, Commissioner for Consumer Protection, by CP Media
Commissioner for Consumer Protection David Hillyard

 

Consumer Protection
Media release
07 Aug 2018

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