Consumer | Cyber Security |

How to stay safe shopping online this festive season

By Jen Stockwell December 17, 2020

This year, we’ve been stuck inside – and on our phones and computers – more than ever. More than a million Aussie households shopped online between March and September this year for the first time ever. If that’s you, we have some advice to help keep you safe.

Australia Post predicts this trend is here to stay too, and it’s easy to see why. Shopping online lets you browse and choose what you need from the comfort of your lounge, and in the past few years Black Friday and Cyber Monday have become record-breaking online shopping events in Australia.

There’s another side to this, though: scams. According to Scamwatch, Australians have lost over $7 million to online shopping scams so far this year – up by up 42 percent this year. Scamwatch also says that scammers are typically out in force over Christmas, as families rush to get through their festive season shopping and bargain hunters trawl through all the digital Boxing Day sales.

Last year it was shoes, smartphones and tickets to concerts and events that were most likely to be listed online by scammers looking to make an illegitimate buck. This year, concert tickets aren’t likely to be as popular, but you should be more cautious than ever about making sure your online purchases are legitimate. As is usual on the internet, a little bit of caution can save you a lot of heartache.

One of the most popular methods of scamming you out of your hard-earned dollars while you’re online shopping is for a scammer to set up fake online stores. Scammers often set up fake websites that look convincingly real, or use social media platforms to host storefronts that may look like a genuine retailer’s. Often they have popular items at prices that may seem too good to be true. The big difference is that when you pay, you won’t see anything arrive in the post like you were expecting.

Another popular scam to watch out for is on classifieds websites, where scammers create fake seller profiles and list popular items at attractive prices. If you’re shopping for items on a classifieds site, a seller might suggest they’re travelling and a friend or agent will complete the sale for you once you’ve paid. There’s a reason that ‘buyer beware’ is a popular saying…

Here are some common-sense tips to help you stay a bit safer while shopping online:

  • If you’re shopping at an online store with its own website, do some research before you click ‘buy’: to check if it’s reputable. Look for independent reviews of the retailer. Are there clear contact details? Make sure you have trust in who you’re buying from, and where possible try to stick to reputable platforms (like eBay and Amazon) that will guarantee your purchase.
  • Shop with a credit card or VISA debit card from a reputable bank, or use a payment processor like PayPal, and check your statements regularly for any fraudulent or unexpected payments outside of your shopping. Always shop with a payment method that allows for disputes to be raised if necessary. And keep track of your purchases!
  • Be alert to phishing attacks: scammers are highly active this time of year. Treat every email or message with caution, especially if it’s asking you to do something or if the offer sounds too good to be true.

And if you’re browsing the classifieds for a second-hand bargain:

  • If possible, picking up the item that you’re buying in person is always preferable. It means you can inspect what you’re buying to ensure it is real and in the condition you expect, and you can agree with the seller to pay in cash or with an instant transfer. You want to avoid paying for the item before you have access to it.
  • When you’re communicating with a potential seller, ask for some proof that they have the item you’re looking to buy – like a new photo of the item. One of our favourites is taking a photo of the item on a recent newspaper with the day’s date. Digital timestamps on photos are also useful for this, especially if there’s no newspaper handy.
  • Carefully consider how much personal information you share when you shop online. Only complete the bare minimum mandatory fields needed to complete your order as any information you enter during sign up could be exposed if that website gets hacked.
  • And, of course, there’s one other piece of advice we’ll never shut up about: always use a strong and unique password, and turn on multi-factor authentication wherever you can. That way, if someone manages to guess your password, they won’t be able to get into your account.

Happy shopping!

Telstra Vantage™ |

Scam me if you can: former-fraudster Frank Abagnale on how to fix cyber security

By Luke Hopewell October 23, 2020

It’s a question that plagues the technological age: how can we stop scammers and bad actors from stealing cash from innocent people? Frank Abagnale – former conman turned cyber expert – spoke at our Vantage Remixed conference this week on how we can all be more secure, and how we can ultimately fix the problem of scams.

Australians lose tens of millions a year to scammers online. Whether through confidence schemes, investment schemes or even romance scams, hundreds of thousands of us have been duped into parting with our money to the criminal hordes.

And it’s not just Aussies losing funds to the less-than-legitimate online. Millions of others around the world have been duped out of cash for decades due to scams. One such scammer and con-artist is Frank W. Abagnale.

Yes, that Frank Abagnale.

Abagnale is the subject of Steven Spielberg’s 2002 blockbuster film Catch Me If You Can. Starring Tom Hanks and Leonardo DiCaprio, the film tells the story of Frank W. Abagnale as an adolescent, where he became a confidence man and scam artist who defrauded millions and led the FBI on a global chase.

After his arrest and subsequent conviction, Abagnale started working with the FBI to teach scams awareness, and these days he’s a world-renowned cyber security specialist, and author of his most recent book, Scam Me If You Can.

Abagnale said that not a soul on Earth is immune from being scammed, and new scams are being invented to dupe us every single day.

“The whole social engineering aspect of it of scamming hasn’t changed in 40 years. Scammers, conmen and criminals all stay the same, but the methods have changed significantly,” Frank Abagnale tells Adam Spencer at Vantage Remixed.

“In writing my book it dawned on me that these scams are scams that are 50 years old. It’s just the methods have changed. The criminal mind has not changed much at all. There is no foolproof system, and if you think there is you haven’t taken into account the creativity of fools. We can make it so difficult for a criminal, we have the technology, but if you don’t use it, it’s worthless. If you don’t use it, you’re becoming a victim!”

Abagnale added that the best way to protect people from scams is to educate them on the methods scammers use to infiltrate our lives. That way, we can all know what to look for when scammers come calling.

Passwords: flawed from the start

Abagnale added, however, that we need more than just education to protect us from scammers. Passwords – those tricky combinations we all have to remember to access our online gear – have been broken from the start according to Frank Abagnale.

“We have to do away with passwords. They’re invented for treehouses,” Abagnale said at Vantage Remixed.

His solution? Do away with passwords altogether and instead rely on identifying us by our smart devices and apps whenever we make contact with a secure system.

“[Passwords] were invented in 1964 and today that’s 72 years on and we’re still using them. We have developed technology to eliminate passwords and identify you by your device. You might walk up to an ATM with your iPhone and open the bank’s app and it identifies you from your device. If I call the bank’s call centre, they recognise my device and I’ll open the app to verify.

“There will be no security questions and they won’t know the answers, I’ll be recognised by my device. That technology is called Trusona, funded by Microsoft. We’re slowly now in Japan and Europe getting away from passwords, and I predict as Gartner does that in the coming years we’ll see passwords go away, and that will put a huge dent in cybercrime.”