Scams are everywhere – talk more about them to help stop it
It seems there is no part of life immune from scammers even right to the end of life, as with inheritance scams and identity theft scams for example. Scammers are becoming more sophisticated and creative in their use of technology to trick and defraud us in all manner of ways.
This article is in support of the ACCC’s ScamWatch1 Scams Awareness Week 8 – 12 November 2021. Their message is to encourage more talking about scams with family, friends and colleagues so we can recognise a scam earlier. With more knowledge about spotting the fraudulent practices we learn how to avoid falling victim, what to look out for and what we can do to protect ourselves.
‘Let’s Talk Scams’ – starting the conversations
Some suggestions are to:
- Browse the statistics on scams for this year compiled by Scamwatch here. Not surprisingly phone calls, texts and emails are the main ways we are being scammed.
- Learn from others – browse some real life stories published on Scamwatch here, (names changed) and more recent scam stories on Scams Awareness Week 2021 page here.
- Learn more about missed delivery, call or email (flubot) scams.
- Try this crossword from Scamwatch.
- Spot the Scam Quiz from Scamwatch.
- Watch videos from Scamwatch: ‘Get smarter with your data’, ‘Phishing: Know the risk’, and ‘How to Spot a Scam’.
Two scams related to end of life matters are mentioned below to raise awareness about these. First are inheritance scams involving the promise of an unexpected large windfall of money out of the blue from an unknown long-lost deceased relative. The second is the theft of a deceased person’s identity.
Inheritance Scams – the lure of unexpected money
An inheritance scam typically involves receiving a letter from an overseas law firm such as the example letter Scamwatch have here. This can look convincing at first glance but email addresses look suspicious among other things. The writer claims that a recently deceased person has left a large sum of money to a relative as an inheritance but despite their best efforts they cannot locate the relative. A search is then made to find any next of kin of the deceased to take the inheritance instead. Coincidentally this search has found a name the same as yours but they require you to provide them with your details and payment of money to cover their costs before anything further can be done.
Once a victim provides their details and pays an initial sum they keep asking for more and so on. Scamwatch have published an example of an inheritance scam based on a mix of real scam reports received by them (names of victims have not been used). In 2018 Scamwatch reported 2,828 “Inheritance Scams” of which 3.0% resulted in actual financial losses.
The other aspect is that in probate matters and the administration of deceased estates it does happen sometimes that a deceased has no known relatives. In those situations lawyers carry out extensive searches locally and overseas to present as evidence to the court so as to resolve who should be legally entitled to inherit the deceased estate.
How can a scammer steal someone’s identity?
Personal information identifying us is what scammers most want and personal information is valuable . Details such as the date and place of birth, bank account details, passport and drivers licence numbers, tax file number and Medicare number. There are a number of ways scammers obtain such personal details and so piece together a person’s identity. According to Scamwatch Phishing is top of the list, see the infographic below.
Identity theft of deceased persons – protecting the personal information and identity of a loved one
There have been instances of identity theft of a deceased person also known as ghosting, although recent technological developments in collaboration among the states and territories are expected to prevent this.
There is a period of delay from the time someone dies to when the death certificate (official proof that a person has died) is issued by the government agency. Once there is a death certificate financial institutions and government bodies can be approached by the executor, administrator or next of kin to close the deceased’s accounts.
Some things to be mindful of at this difficult time:
- Registration of the death is usually done by the funeral director but if one is not being used it can be done by a relative or next of kin. It involves notifying the relevant state or territory government registry mostly known as the Registry of the Births, Deaths and Marriages. It is important that the death is registered as soon as possible so that a death certificate can be issued.
- Death certificate. The death must be registered before a death certificate will be issued. Registering a death as soon as practical is important to start the process. It can take a few weeks depending on work flows to receive a death certificate after registration.
- The new development of the Australian Death Notification Service : https://deathnotification.gov.au/. This service allows the notification of a number of organisations online in the one place about a death so that their accounts can be closed or transferred. To use the service the death needs to have been notified to the Registry (registered) in your state or territory and a death certificate issued.
- Public obituaries. Be cautious about how much identifying information you put in a public death notice about your loved one. The former Australian Crime Commission2 has reported that public obituaries have been searched by identity criminals looking for personal details to find prospective targets. Things like the deceased full name, their full address, where they were born and when; for women their maiden name and even relatives names.
- Compile and maintain a list of contacts of people, financial and other organisations with their contact details who need to be contacted for when you die. This can assist your legal personal representatives (executors) who will be looking after the administration of your estate to attend to this aspect promptly. Review it annually, for example at tax time to update it. Tell your executors, personal representatives or someone you trust where it is.
The recent development of the Australian Death Check database will provide a single information source of deaths. Among other things it is designed to protect against identity fraud by preventing false accounts being created in the name of a deceased person. When a death is registered in a state or territory registry it will be uploaded into this database. It is not open to the public and is subject to strict controls.
Protecting yourself – be cyber safe
ACCC Scamwatch have tips on protecting yourself and your data both online and off:
- If you think you have been scammed your can make a report on the ACCC Scamwatch website.
- Follow @scamwatch_gov on Twitter and subscribe to Scamwatch radar alerts to stay informed of current developments.
Help to stop scams to by talking more about them.
- ScamWatch is the part of the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission (ACCC), https://www.accc.gov.au/. Its role is to raise awareness and to provide information to consumers on how to recognise, avoid and report scams.
- The Australian Crime Commission is now part of the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission (ACIC).
7 November 2021
© BHS Legal