Concerning spike in scams targeting flood ravaged communities, ACCC says

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Flood victims are being warned about a concerning spike in scammers preying on their vulnerability as they clean up in the aftermath of consecutive flood disasters.

There have been 45 scams reported since February 1, amounting to a total loss of $54,308 from communities already reeling from the natural disaster, according to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s (ACCC) scam department Scamwatch.

Many flood victims remain without homes or businesses as the deluge left structures and — in the case of towns like Mullumbimby and Lismore, whole streets — uninhabitable.

Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman Bruce Billson says small business owners should be hyper-vigilant during this difficult time.

“Sadly scammers prey on the vulnerable and we are seeing the ACCC report examples of that in these flood-affected communities,” Billson tells SmartCompany.

“The rule of thumb is that if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.

“Be aware of SMS messages with suspicious links, pre-recorded phone messages offering money, or any form of communication that requires you to click a link or send an email with your details.

Billson urged anyone who had encountered suspicious behaviour to report it to Scamwatch.”

Queensland MP Ali King, who represents the electorate of Pumicestone located in the corridor between Brisbane and the Sunshine Coast, was targeted by scammers and posted the attempt on her Facebook page last month.

“I got a text today from someone assigned to help me with my insurance claim. I don’t have an insurance claim,” she wrote.

“Watch out for flood scammers, everyone!”

So what should people watch out for? ACCC Deputy Chair Delia Rickard says there are some telltale signs when it comes to fleecing money.

“Scammers will ask for money and personal information before offering to ‘help’ the victim and will then disappear and stop all contact,” she warned.

“Don’t give financial details or copies of identity documents to anyone who you’ve never met in person and never give strangers remote access to your devices.”

Rickard says money recovery scams are a particularly insidious type. Scammers can pose as a trusted organisation like a law firm, fraud task force or government agency, sometimes sporting an official-looking website and using fake testimonials from other victims they claim to have “helped”.

So far this year, over $270,000 has been obtained by scammers targeting previous scam victims — an increase of 301% on usual figures, according to Scamwatch.

“Hang up the phone, delete the email”

As for what you can do to protect yourself, Rickard says one handy way is to search the name of the organisation, the person’s name, or even the phone number they’re calling from, and the word “scam”, “complaint”, or “review” to get an idea.

“If you get contacted out of the blue by someone offering to help recover scam losses for a fee, it is a scam. Hang up the phone, delete the email and ignore any further contacts,” Rickard says.

“These scams can lead to significant psychological distress as many of the people have already lost money or identity information.”

Last month, the NSW SES warned people it would never seek donations over the phone.

“Flood victims and residents across the state should be wary of flood recovery scams,” it wrote.

“Please ensure that you receive certification from any organisation seeking donations as there have been several reported incidents of groups claiming to be the NSW SES in order to obtain funds fraudulently.”

Rickard advises people who have lost money to a scam to contact their bank or financial institution as soon as possible.

Bank Australia warned customers last month about “increasing reports of scam activity in relation to flood support and relief”.

“Unfortunately scammers quite often take advantage of people during these kinds of devastating natural disasters,” it warned.

“Please be wary of where you are donating or seeking support or relief from and ensure it is a verified organisation.

“We will always do everything we can to assist if you experience loss from a scam.

“However, funds cannot always be recovered.”

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