Australia’s National Consumer Fraud Week starts today – the motto is, “Outsmart the scammers!”

Do you know someone who’s been scammed online?

Chances are that you do – or you may have been scammed yourself.

Sadly, if you have been scammed, you may find some of your friends or family strangely unsympathetic.

There’s still a widely-held belief that anyone who falls for an online scam must be both greedy and gullible.

→ In some cases, it’s true that the venality of the victim is a factor. If you send money to someone who has openly requested it as a bribe to persuade a corrupt official to pay out $22,000,000 for an oil pipeline that was never built, you have been both greedy and gullible. (You’ve also been a crook yourself. Don’t expect sympathy.)

But there are dozens of popular online scams these days that don’t require any risky character traits in the victim except a trusting nature.

Here are some examples:

  • Skimming. Crooks fit a duplicate card reader to an ATM so your card gets read twice when you use it.
  • Phishing. Crooks trick you into logging in on a site that looks like your bank, but isn’t.
  • Fake competitions. Crooks persuade you to hand over personal information for geeky “prizes” that don’t exist.
  • Fake anti-virus. Crooks trick you into paying $50 for anti-virus software to “clean” malware that was never there.
  • Fake support. Crooks pretend to be from Microsoft and offer a remote “cleanup” session for malware you don’t have.

The reason I’m mentioning all of this at this particular moment is that the Australian National Consumer Fraud Week 2013 starts today.

At Sophos we enthusiatically support this sort of event, because every time anyone gets scammed – even if they lose only a modest amount, such as $10 – it hurts our society and economy as a whole.

That means that helping other people to avoid scams can be considered an important civic and economic duty for all of us.

Here are five handy “outsmart the scammers” advice points from the Australasian Consumer Fraud Taskforce:

  1. Think twice – if a deal looks too good to be true, it probably is.
  2. Find out what other shoppers say – make sure the person that you are dealing with, and their offer, is the real deal.
  3. Protect your identity – your personal details are private and invaluable; keep them that way and away from scammers.
  4. Keep your computer secure – install software that protects your computer from viruses and unwanted programs and make sure it is kept up-to-date.
  5. Only pay via secure payment methods – look for a web address starting with ‘https’ and a closed padlock symbol. Never use a wire transfer to send money to anyone you do not know and trust, and do not share your financial details with anyone.

There’s also a very handy taxonomy of scams on the Aussie government’s SCAMwatch site.

Why not support National Consumer Fraud Week yourself?

Tell your less security-conscious friends and family about the SCAMwatch website, and get them to take a look at some of the many scams that are explained there.

Let’s all learn to outsmart the scammers!

If you’re interested, Sophos provides a range of free security tools to help you stay safe online. Choose from Sophos Mobile Security for Android, Sophos Anti-Virus for Mac Home Edition, our Virus Removal Tool and the Sophos UTM Home Edition.