January 17, 2020
Various online scams seeking to fleece generous Australians continue to be very active, leveraging the nation's bushfire crisis.
We reported on this back in November, but it's worth repeating given the increasing attention bushfires in Australia have received and the number of people both at home and abroad wanting to donate to recovery efforts.
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) says 425 reports of bushfire scams had been received by Scamwatch since September last year. That's probably just the tip of the iceberg.
"Scammers are cold-calling, direct messaging and creating fake websites and pages on social media to raise funds," it states.
Among advice from the ACCC, it recommends not donating via fundraising pages on platforms that haven't verified legitimacy of the fundraiser or won't guarantee money will be returned if the page is determined to be fraud. Of course, there is always the risk a fraudulent fundraising site will claim it does both.
In terms of stand-alone web sites being set up for donations, as we mentioned in November, Australia's administrator and self-regulatory policy body for the .au country code Top Level Domain, auDA, is aware of the situation and actively monitoring domain registrations that may be used for related scams.
But even if auDA manages to catch all such instances under the .au extension, there are many others that don't have the stringent registration criteria associated with Australian domain names; so donors should be particularly wary of web sites associated with domains ending in anything but .au.
Bushfire donation scams - or offline/online scams of any kind - can be reported via Scamwatch, and the ACCC has also set up a dedicated phone number for bushfire related scams - 1300 795 995.
While the behaviour of scammers is abhorrent, what has been encouraging is how much good is being done through the high online profile of the crisis, with many millions of dollars being collected. This again demonstrates just how powerful the internet can be for an agent of good; but also how important it is to stamp out the bad. Unfortunately, the latter will never be possible - it's really down to individuals to learn and engage safe online practices. Denying scammers funds cuts off the head of the snake.
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