A bunch of Australians have fallen victim to savvy tech scammers pretending to be from companies like Microsoft who are gaining access to computers and locking users out unless they pay a ransom.
NSW Fair Trading Minister Matthew Mason-Cox said there have been a number of reports scammers are cold-calling or emailing people claiming to be from computer software or anti-virus companies.
“Online and computer scams have grown in popularity as more aspects of our everyday life move into the digital realm,” Mason-Cox said.
“Scammers pose as representatives from software and technology companies and concoct reasons, like a fake virus, to lure victims into visiting websites that instigate the automatic download of malicious software.
“Once the software has been downloaded the victim’s computers or devices are locked by the scammers. Often victims are left with no option but to pay scammers to restore use of their computer or device.’’
Mason-Cox urged consumers to treat any cold calls or unsolicited emails with caution.
“Before taking any action, look up the company or agency’s contact details and get in touch with them directly to see if the claims are genuine,” Mason-Cox said. “In many cases they won’t be.”
Late last year a similar scam emerged with people receiving bogus speeding fines via email purporting to be from the NSW Office of State Revenue. Links in the email directed people to download malicious software that locked and disabled their computers and charged users a hefty ransom to restore access.
Keeping anti-virus protection software up-to-date is one way to help ward off these intruders, Mason-Cox said.
“For every consumer who is scam smart, there is someone likely to be taken in and who will lose their money, their identity and their confidence,” he said.
“When scammers have success, they keep coming back and will continue to take money from vulnerable consumers. They also share information about victims across their criminal networks.
“It is a vicious cycle and victims suffer the humiliation of knowing they have been conned.’’
Many of these scams originate from outside Australia and once money is sent overseas it is virtually impossible to recover.
On average, Fair Trading receives close to 1,300 scam reports each year.