How to stay safe on the internet

There are more than 17 million smartphones in Australia today and 24 percent of the population have five or more internet connected devices in their possession.

And while these nifty gadgets are great for convenient living, they also provide more and more gateways for cyber criminals, hackers and digital con artists to infiltrate our data, our identity and our money.

In 2017, six million Australians fell victim to some form of cybercrime, as revealed in Symantec’s Cyber Security Insights Report – and this is a rate that is climbing by 13 percent every year.

That is why it’s critical to be mindful of the types of scams out there and how we can best protect ourselves.

How the scammers get you to click (and how to prevent becoming a victim)

There are many ways cyber criminals can access your details. But the most common methods involve emails or messages that look legitimate and familiar to ones you receive every single day.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) warns people to look out for the following approaches that scammers use to get past your defences.

  • Threats, extortion and theft: These come in the form of malware and ransomware software packages that can get into your computer and cost you a lot of money. Malware will track your internet activity and give scammers access to all of your files – opening the door to identity theft. Ransomware will lock down your computer until you pay a fee to have it released.

It is important to never click on any part of a suspicious email. When installing software, carefully read what you’re actually putting onto your computer. Hackers can hide their malware and ransomware in seemingly legitimate installer programs, so read every page before you click next.

Sometimes the emails may be more blunt, with direct threats to your wellbeing or life unless money is sent. Always contact the police in this instance.

  • Purchasing or selling: There’s a myriad of ways a scammer can con you here. Never believe buyers on classifieds sites that want you to pay for the postage with promises they will pay you back. False bills are also common, so look at the email address it came from and check to see if it is legitimate. There are also scams that run through legal channels, like SMS competition hotlines. These will charge you enormous fees for every text message and are best avoided.
  • Dating sites: Unfortunately, scammers love to take advantage of lonely hearts. They are also willing to play a very long game to make you believe you are chatting with a genuine person who is the love of your life. Never send money, no matter how convincing their sob story is. They will also likely use fake images, use diverting phone numbers and even place video calls to convince you they are legitimate.
  • Fake charities: These tend to pop up immediately after or during natural disasters or major events. You can check if an organisation is for-real by looking up their registeration through the Australian Charities and Not-For-Profits Commission website.
  • Unexpected winnings or gifts of money: We have all seen these. The Nigerian Prince sending you his fortune, the epic win in a United States lottery. They are all cons to get you to send money for a ‘transfer fee’ or something similar. If you didn’t enter, you couldn’t have won – it’s that simple.
  • Investments: These usually come in the form of sports betting or gambling software packages that promise a magic formula for guaranteed success. There is no such thing – they are always scams. They can also present in the form of business investment software.
  • The dream job: Pathways to riches can be offered in emails through bogus qualifications or pyramid schemes. Although it would be nice to make top dollar for minimal work, unfortunately it’s a scam that will cost you in the long run. Stick to registered training organisations and employment websites – check their registration at

The mental toll an internet scam can take on you

IDcare is a not-for-profit support service for Australian and New Zealand victims of cyber crime and identity fraud. It has seen first hand the impact these scams can have on people.

The service states that victims are left feeling ashamed and unwilling to share their stories with others, an internalisation that can trigger depression and PTSD. It also strips victims of their trust in the wider community and even close friends and family.

Unfortunately, the cost of internet scams is not just financial, but can be detrimental to your mental health as well.

If you have become a victim or are experiencing any signs of depression, contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or BeyondBlue on 1300 22 46 36.

If you have been targeted by an internet scammer or cyber criminal, it is important to report it to the ACCC and other relevant authorities and consumer protection agencies. You can also seek support from iDcare. Remember, cyber crime is rife throughout the digital world, so stay alert.