1. Home
  2. Credit Score
  3. Articles
  4. How to tell if it’s a scam: these are the tell-tale signs

How to tell if it’s a scam: these are the tell-tale signs

Alex Ritchie avatar
Alex Ritchie
- 8 min read
How to tell if it’s a scam: these are the tell-tale signs

The rise of cybercrime, financial fraud and scams are a scary reality for millions of Australians. Between major corporate data breaches and the influx of scam text messages and emails, you may be looking to increase your knowledge on how to tell if something is a scam or not.

These cons are designed to manipulate you into handing over your personal details and/or cash, so don’t feel bad if you’ve fallen for a scam. The best thing you can do moving forward is to educate yourself on the tell-tale signs of a potential scam.

Common types of scams in Australia

First of all, it’s important to familiarise yourself with the ways in which criminals can try and scam you. These are the most common ways scammers commit cybercrimes at the moment when trying to access your data.

  • Text message scams – Scammers are typically trying to get you to click on a link. Often sent from an unknown, overseas number, or labelled with a known name, such as Telstra or NBN Australia.
  • Email scams – Scammers send you an email trying to get you to click on a link, request personal information from you, or asking you to provide your banking details. Often sent from email addresses that look familiar, or the signature may be from a provider you recognise, but the details are slightly off, such as an email address that is just random letters.
  • Social media direct message scams - Scammers may reach out to you via your social media direct messages, such as through your Instagram messages. The same pattern will occur. The scammer may impersonate a company or maybe even a friend. They will often try to get you to click on a link. Try to avoid opening messages from unknown senders or clicking on links you don't recognise.
  • Phone scams – Scammers may call you directly claiming to be from a known credit provider, government body or retailer, such as a big four bank or Centrelink. They will try and request you provide personal information and/or banking details over the phone.

The tell-tale signs of a scam

1. The contact is unexpected

If you were not expecting any contact from that person, retailer or credit provider, chances are that it is a scammer pretending to be them. This is because major retailers and providers will not typically send you anything directly. Wholesalers, such as The NBN Co, will not talk to individual customers. The likely exception to this may be if you previously called said business, and put your number down for a call-back.

2. The email address or website is not quite right

Scammers know that you’re looking for familiarity from a sender before you engage with their message. This is why it’s crucial to carefully look at the email address or website provided in a scam message. Two things will typically occur:

  • The email or website will be completely wrong, such as a random selection of letters, like “[email protected]
  • The email or website will have garbled or misspelled words, similar to the real one, such as ‘tlesra.com.au’ or ‘[email protected]’. Your brain may read these quickly and process them as the real thing, which is part of the manipulation.

A quick google search of what the actual URL is of the company that contacted you could help you to determine if the message is a scam or not. Remember that an email from a company should have their actual URL after the @ symbol.

For example, an email from ‘contact@nbnau.com.au’ is a scam, because the real NBN Co website is ‘nbnco.com.au’. It's worth remembering that a scammer can't just use the real website, which is why they'll use something similar. It's yet more manipulation.

3. It wants you to click on a link or open an attachment

Phishing is a common text message and email attack type, in which a scammer is trying to trick you into either opening an attachment. Phishing sends you to a website that looks like the real deal, but isn't. These can contain viruses, or direct you to a website which will, again, request you to provide your personal information.

As a general rule of thumb, do not click on links or open attachments -especially if they come from an unexpected SMS or email, or if that SMS or email meets any of the other criteria on this list.

Rest assured that anything that you need to do for a company or credit provider can be accessed via its website yourself, or in branch, without clicking on links sent to you. For example, if you receive an email reminding you to pay your internet bill, simply hop online to the provider’s website and log in to your account. There you will easily be able to view if you have any outstanding payments to make, and then be able to make them yourself securely online.

4. The sender is asking for bank details or personal information

If anyone contacts you asking you to provide your financial information or send them money, assume this is a scam. There is no harm in being rude to a potential phone scammer and hanging up or ignoring an email or text message.

If you want to verify if this was a real request, consider checking the ACCC ScamWatch website to see if the message you received is listed as a scam. Alternatively, you could call the company directly to enquire about the validity of the message.

5. Deadlines or a sense of urgency

If the message you receive references a strict deadline or creates a serious sense of urgency, there is a chance this may be a scam. For example, if this is the first time you are discovering you owe a debt to a company, it will not typically have a short turnaround of 1-3 days for payment.

Keep in mind that companies know it can take a customer some time to gather funds to pay for a bill. If someone is contacting you demanding urgent payment right now or you’ll lose a service, assume this is a scam. If you are struggling to pay off a bill, a company will typically speak with you about your options, such as a payment plan or hardship support, before terminating your account.

6. Promise of great returns

On the flip side, if someone has contacted you with information on how an investment opportunity, special deal, or financial offer they have will earn you significant benefits, including “guaranteed returns”, assume this is a scam. No investor, or investment option, can, or should, ever promise you with guaranteed high returns.

Remember, if it sounds too good to be true, it likely is. Think of the ‘Nigerian Prince’ advance-fee email scams. The scammer will typically ask you to make a deposit to them or request your bank details. These scammers are just looking to access your finances, or have you send them money.

7. Urgent threats of fines and jail

Another common ploy of scammers is to threaten you with urgent jail time, significant fines or debt, if you do not immediately send them your bank details or make payment to them. Keep in mind that if you have any late payments to a company, there is a process that must legally take place for collections. Scammers are relying on your fear to push you to hand over your banking details.

For example, if you are late in paying your credit card bill, the law requires credit providers to give you a 14-days grace period on late payments. After this point, a late payment may be recorded by the company to a credit reporting bureau, which will appear on your credit history. While this is an unfortunate situation, it does not mean you’ll be facing jail time if you do not pay the company today.

Remember that for legitimate bills that need to be paid, you will have multiple options to pay these without handing over your details over the phone.

Regularly check your credit history and credit score

Unfortunately the worst can occur, and even the best of us can be easily manipulated by sophisticated scams. One way to keep up to date with your financial health and situation is to regularly check your credit history and credit score.

Credit reporting bureaus are legally required to provide you with a free copy of your credit report once every three months. It may be worth requesting access to your credit history every quarter and making going through your file with a fine-tooth comb part of your regular routine. If anything looks suspicious, or if errors are recorded, immediately flag them with the reporting bureau and the credit provider listed.

For more immediate information, it may be helpful to request a copy of your credit score. RateCity allows you to view your current credit score for free, as determined by major bureau Equifax. If your score suddenly changes significantly, this may be a sign that scammers have accessed your financial information and attempted to apply for multiple forms of credit under your name.

Discover your credit score for free today

Buying or selling? Learn the value of your home or a property you're looking to purchase.
Get my free estimate

It won’t affect your credit score. How?

Have a profile already? Sign in here.

Find out your credit score on your phone.
Download the app on iPhone or Android

This article was reviewed by Head of SEO Leigh Stark before it was published as part of RateCity's Fact Check process.