NSW Fair Trading Minister Matthew Mason- Cox is warning consumers of the dangers of falling for computer virus scams, following recent reports of NSW residents being contacted by scammers.
Mr Mason-Cox said scammers often cold-call or email victims claiming they were from a computer software or anti-virus company, like Microsoft.
“Online and computer scams have grown in popularity as more aspects of our everyday life move into the digital realm,” Mr 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.’’
Mr Mason-Cox urged consumers to treat any cold calls or unsolicited emails of this nature with great 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,’’ Mr Mason- Cox said. “In many cases they won’t be.”
A similar scam surfaced in late 2014, 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 an expensive ransom to restore access.
Mr Mason-Cox encouraged people to warn their family members, friends and neighbours to be scam smart and to keep their anti-virus and computer protection software up to date.
“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 scams originate from outside Australia and once money is sent overseas it is virtually impossible to recover.
On average, NSW Fair Trading receives close to 1,300 reports on scams each year.
“If you do fall victim to a scam, contact your financial institution for advice, Mr Mason-Cox said. “Consumers should report any activity they suspect is a scam to NSW Fair Trading on 13 32 20 and Scamwatch, www. scamwatch.gov.au’’.