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How to protect yourself from scams online

With financial health and literacy at the top of what RateCity aims to educate readers on, keeping you safe online is also of great importance. Financial scams are one of the leading causes of losses in Australia, totalling in the millions of dollars every year. 

As such, RateCity is committed to keeping you safe online as you use the site, but there are still other steps you can take to protect yourself. 

The rise of scams

Scams are on the rise in Australia with more people going online. Whether you use a phone, a tablet, or a computer, scammers can target you with fraudulent activity in any number of ways, including: 

  • Phone calls: Criminals can call you purporting to be from an actual organisation. This type of cold calling can be effective at making you think the caller is real.
  • Text messages: Short messages sent to your phone are a common approach for scammers hoping the urgency of a message is enough to get you to click and follow them down a rabbit hole of fraudulent activity. 
  • Emails: One of the most common approaches for scammers, emails provide a way for fraudsters to send fake messages that look convincing enough, sending people down a path of risk. These emails are also known as "phishing", and can seem real when they're anything but. 
  • Fake websites: Cloned websites are also a form of phishing, and typically a part of how email scams work. By sending people to a phishing website, criminals can attempt a look and feel of legitimacy, even when they're just a scam. 

While the world of security and online scams is constantly changing, the Australian government provides an up-to-date resource with information on current threats, and to find out how to recognise and even report on scams. 

Know what to look for

Like with most things, knowledge is power, and the more you know about scams and scam education, the more likely you are to spot them. 

Scams can be very different, however many include some consistent points, such as:

  • Urgency: Scammers won't waste time, and will want you to do something quickly. If a message, be it call, text, or email is suggesting you have limited time or something is happening immediately, take it with a grain of salt.
  • Language: Not every cybercriminal writes or speaks English or Australian English to the degree with which RateCity is written. Read the language carefully, and if words seem regularly misspelled or poorly formed, there's a good chance you're looking at a scam. 
  • Fake emails: A common scammer tactic is to "spoof" an email address ahead of the real email address. This can make you think you're looking at a real email, when the fake text is more like the name you can give yourself. Look at the full email address to see the real email, as that can help you spot a scam.
  • Real companies: Scams often pretend they're a real website to convince you to trust them, but there are often key indicators that show the opposite. Phone numbers without a name attached to them in SMS, email addresses that lack the official website address (like ratecity.com.au for RateCity), and other telltale signs make it clear you're looking at a scam.  

Take a 5 point check 

Scam education is one part of improving online literacy, but you can always take a quick look at your situation using the following check. 

  1. Are you worried your credentials may have been compromised?
    Consider using this free tool to find out whether your email address or phone number has been involved in a breach in the past, and whether you need to change your passwords ASAP. 

  2. Do you have a form of internet security installed on your devices, such as antivirus or anti-malware software?
    No operating system is necessarily safer than another, and internet security software and services are recommended to ensure devices are less susceptible to threats.

  3. Is your operating system, software, and web browser up to date?
    Ensure your phone, tablet, and/or computer have the most recent operating system and security patches by updating and checking for updates regularly. The same goes for software you use for online activities and web browsing; always ensure your devices are kept as up-to-date as possible.

  4. How secure is your password?
    Passwords can be complex, but make sure that you're not using the same password for every service, and if you're struggling to remember long and complicated passwords, consider using a password manager.

  5. Do you have multi-factor authentication (MFA) switch on?
    These days, most services will offer a form of multi-factor authentication. Previously known as 2FA for "two-factor authentication", multi-factor makes it more difficult for criminals to steal information and can rely on more than two forms of authentication, such as a phone call, text message, an app notification, and even a one-time password in newer devices. 

For more tips on how to keep your online presence secure, check out this guide from the Australian Centre for Cyber Security.