In an act that's been dubbed 'concerning' - scammers called the victim under the guise of verifying their recent purchases and were able to provide recent transaction data.

The criminals then remotely accessed the real estate agent’s computer and were able to make multiple transactions before their bank raised a red flag.

It’s a warning to the real estate and settlement industries, as well as everyday Australians all over: scams can be incredibly “elaborate and sophisticated”, commissioner for Consumer Protection Trish Blake said.

“What’s concerning about these latest scams, is that the scammers know the last few transactions on the accounts which makes them sound very convincing.”

Criminals have also been known to make calls appearing to come from a bank’s official phone number or send texts that show within the same conversation thread as genuine messages from a person’s bank.

“Never assume that a call from your bank, is actually your bank – hang up and call them back on a legitimate number from their website or a bank statement,” Ms Blake said.

Banks also won't ask you to give out passcodes or request remote access to your computer.

Bank impersonation scams on the rise

Australians lost a total of $3.1 billion to scams last year – 80% more than in 2021. Of that, $229 million was lost to remote access scams.

The Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) slammed the big four banks in April after finding their customers lost a total of more than $558 million over the year to July 2022. That was a 50% jump on the prior 12-month period.

“Australia's big four banks have invested significantly in their anti-scam efforts over the last several years and have implemented a number of innovative and positive initiatives, including some recently implemented following the conclusion of ASIC’s review,” ASIC deputy chair Sarah Court said.

"However, the increasing prominence of scams means that there is still more to be done."

The big four banks have upped their anti-scam and anti-fraud measures in recent years, even turning to technology like artificial intelligence (AI) to do so.

But, despite such measures, they were found to have only detected and stopped 13% of scam payments made by their customers.

Meanwhile, reimbursement rates remain low, with banks returning around $21 million to scam victims.

“We’d like to see the banks take steps to evolve their scam management practices, including how they inform and educate customers and help them through what is a distressing time” Ms Court said.

Also worryingly, scammers impersonating banks can be “very hard to detect,” Catriona Lowe, deputy chair of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), said earlier this year.

“What’s equally worrying about this particular scam, is that it is emptying every last cent out of victims’ savings accounts, with losses averaging $22,000 and more than 90 reports of losses between $40,000 and $800,000.”

Speaking to the Savings Tip Jar podcast, Australian Bank Association CEO Anna Bligh said there is little appetite for banks to reimburse scam losses dollar-for-dollar as a uniform rule.

"Banks will reimburse where there has been a fraud and where their systems have failed," Ms Bligh said.

"For customers who have authorised the payment, unless there's some other exceptional circumstance, if we had a system where banks used your money to reimburse every customer that had authorised a scam payment, I think we'd end up with some real problems in the system.

"Remember, the money that banks have is your money. It's the money out of your deposit account. That's the money banks use."

Unfortunately, recent data breaches – like those of Optus and Medibank last year – might have worked in criminals’ favour.

Encouragement to monitor accounts for suspicious behaviour led many Australians to act on malicious scam calls and texts, the ACCC found.

5 ways to identify a bank impersonation scam

The ACCC's anti-scam segment, Scamwatch, has outlined the top signs to look for if you’re worried about bank impersonation.

1. Urgency

A sense of urgency or threat in a message could indicate a scam. Such a text might read, “your bank account has been locked”.

2. Inconsistency 

If a message that appears to come from your bank looks or sounds different to previous messages, it might be a phishing attempt.

3. Suspicious links

Scam messages often contain links that don’t look quite right.

4. Including a number to call

If a text message includes a telephone number to ring, don’t call it. Instead, seek out your bank’s contact number independently.

5. You’re asked to transfer money

Calling to ask a customer to move their money to a different account for safe keeping or further investigation isn’t part of a bank’s standard procedure and should be treated as a scam.


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