Online scams

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Everyone is likely to be scammed at some point in their life. In 2016, Australians lost over $83,000,000 to scammers. Over 155,000 people reported being scammed by (amongst other methods) phone, email, internet, text message, mail and social networks.

Some of the most popular scams are in the form of “unexpected money”, “dating and romance”, “phishing” and “remote access” scams. You will find more information and examples below.

The best way to spot a scam is if an offer is too good to be true. Years ago, scammers operated mainly by mail and phone calls. Today text message scams, email scams and (especially) social media scams are becoming more common.

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Protecting yourself against scams

The best way to protect yourself is to be aware that scams exist and to never open anything that looks suspicious. Here are some top tips for dealing with scams:

  1. Be alert that scams exist;
  2. Never share your personal details online;
  3. Keep your social media accounts on private;
  4. Think twice about clicking links or attachments in pop-ups, emails, text messages or social media messages;
  5. Choose passwords that are difficult to guess and update them regularly;
  6. Never download a program unless you can be sure it comes from a safe or reputable source;
  7. Ignore suspicious messages and block them on social media;
  8. Do an online search to see if another person has already been scammed by the same trick; and
  9. If a deal seems too good to be true, it probably is.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has some great resources, including videos and links to other sites, to help you protect yourself against scams. There are instructions for changing the privacy settings on your social media, choosing stronger passwords and spotting scams.

What to do if you are scammed

If you think you have been scammed, the best things to do are:

  1. Tell your parents or another responsible adult;
  2. If necessary, help your parents to explain the scam to the police;
  3. Report the scam to Scamwatch;
  4. If you have lost money, contact your bank or credit union;
  5. If your personal information might have been seen by others, change your online passwords; and
  6. Visit the Scamwatch website for more help.

Don’t forget that hundreds of thousands of people are scammed each year. This includes children and adults.

Even if you think you have done the wrong thing, it is important to be as honest as possible to your parents or a responsible adult. If you are feeling upset about being scammed, you can always call the Kids Helpline (1800 55 1800) or Lifeline (13 11 14) for a confidential chat with someone who will be able to direct you to further help. They are open for calls 24/7.

Receiving unexpected money

There is no such thing as a get-rich-quick scheme. These scams often involve a person who promises you money, a share in an inheritance, a big tax return, some compensation or a special prize. It may look like these people come from governments, banks or law firms. Years ago, these scams would arise via phone call, letter or email. Today, you may even be contacted by text message, Facebook message, WhatsApp, Snapchat and other social media platforms.

To claim your “money”, you will probably have to supply your bank details (“so we can deposit the cash”), your bank card details (“to pay the transfer fee”), your passport (“to verify your identity”) or some other personal information (“so we can fill out the paperwork”).

However, you will never receive the money!

Case study:

Angela received an email from “Henry & Co Lawyers”, a law firm in Europe. The email looked very official. It told her that her great uncle, a rich man in Italy, recently passed away. Luckily for Angela, a new law in Italy meant that her uncle’s money could be sent to relatives around the world and Angela was entitled to a million dollars! All she had to do was sent a copy of her passport and $125 to the lawyers so they could verify her identity and pay the transaction fee.

SCAM! The same email was probably sent to thousands of people. The “law firm” was probably a scammer from another country who made up the entire story. Angela should have ignored the email and reported it to her parents and Scamwatch.

Dating and romance

Have you been contacted by someone looking for love? Dating and romance scammers often use social media to build a relationship with you before asking for money. Traditionally, these scammers used dating websites, but they are now using fake profiles to add young people on social media. They might promise to send photos or videos of themselves or they might give you an emotional story about being stuck in a foreign country without money.

The scammer usually uses a fake profile. You probably won’t have many mutual friends and it’s likely that their account is new so they won’t have much online history. Remember that the person operating the online account is really after your money so they might not actually resemble their profile picture!

Case study:

Imran received a friend request from Tatiana. He didn’t recognise her from her picture and he hadn’t heard of the place she lived or the school she went to. It was just a friend request so what was the harm?

Tatiana started messaging Imran and sent some photos of herself. She said he was cute and asked for a photo of him so Imran sent one. She spoke to him over a few weeks and she told Imran she wanted to be his girlfriend. They agreed to meet in person. The day before, she sent him an urgent message saying that she lost her bag and was stuck without any money. She wouldn’t be able to come and meet him unless she could borrow $10 for a train ticket. She asked Imran to send his bank details. She promised she would pay him back when she arrived.

SCAM! “Tatiana” was probably never coming. She wanted access to Imran’s bank details to take money or to sell them onto someone else. Imran should never share bank details with a stranger. He should have ignored her messages, told an adult and blocked her on social media.


Never give your personal details to someone you don’t know! Although most scammers take money from their victims, some people take personal information. If people have access to your identity, your bank details or your address, they can get involved in illegal activity under your name. You should always think twice about providing personal information online, including on social media, blogs and online forums. If you think it’s a scam, then don’t respond.

Case study:

Lee got her first debit card so she could finally make online purchases. She was so excited that she posted a photo of the new card on Instagram and Facebook. The next day, she received a call from “her bank”. The caller said he was doing a security check on her new card. He knew Lee’s full name, the debit card number and the expiry date, but he said he needed her to “confirm the CVV” number” on the back.

Lee didn’t know what the CVV number was. The man was very helpful and explained that it was a short code on the back of her card. She shared her CVV and the man confirmed that her card was secure.

SCAM! Lee had linked her phone number to her Facebook account and her profile was not on private. A scammer saw her photo, called her and read the details from the photo (not from the bank’s records). Once Lee gave the caller her CVV details, he could buy things with her money.

Remote access

Have you ever been prompted to download something you don’t recognise? Remote scammers send emails, social media messages, text messages and pop-up ads with links to videos, news or games. If you click on the link you will often be asked to download a program “so you can view the video” or “so you can play the game”. Sometimes, you will actually be downloading “malicious software” which is known as “malware”.

When you download malware you might be allowing scammers to access your files or watch what you do on your computer. This is called giving someone else “remote access” to your computer. Lots of people have had their bank details used, personal information stolen or computers locked from downloading malware.

Case study:

Pablo wanted to play a racing game on his computer. Normally it cost $50 to buy, but his friends at school told him about websites where he could play it for free. He tried a few websites with no luck, so he searched the internet and found something that looked promising. The website offered a download for free! He quickly downloaded the game and installed it on his computer.

SCAM! The game didn’t work. Pablo’s computer was suddenly much slower than it used to be and he kept getting pop-up ads. He had no idea, but someone in another country was going through his files. Pablo should never have downloaded the “game”. It was too good to be true.

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