iTunes gift cards target of scammers
AUSTRALIANS are being scammed out of hundreds of thousands of dollars by fraudsters who demand payment via iTunes gift cards and often target older citizens, the ACCC warns.
This year alone, victims have been tricked out of more than half a million dollars by making gift cards payments to fraudsters who often cold call their targets, according to the country's top consumer watchdog.
Reports to the ACCC's Scamwatch show 1236 people lost nearly $540,000 to date in 2017 as authorities warn that trafficking in gift cards is a growing tactic used by criminals.
In the 2015-16 financial year losses from this type of scam were about $480,000.
Cairns woman Maree, 50, fell victim to a surprisingly convincing swindle.
She received a call last week from someone claiming to be from the Australian Taxation Office telling her she had $4821.10 in unpaid taxes and there was a warrant out for her arrest.
"I'd been a bit naughty on my taxes, I hadn't done it for some years," she told news.com.au.
Maree was planning on leaving the country on a university trip and was told she would be arrested at the border. "My whole thing was I'm leaving the country tomorrow and I have to fix this now," she said.
They kept her on the line as she drove to the nearest shopping mall as she began worrying about how she was going to come up with the money.
"I was gonna ring the bank and extend the mortgage on my house for $4000, that was all the thoughts going through my head, how am I going to get $4000?"
She could only come up with $800 on the spot and was told she could pay with a "government approved voucher" or via iTunes gift cards.
"So of course I asked for a government approved voucher and they don't have it so I said iTunes. I've never bought iTunes in my bloody life."
After forking out $800 for the Apple gift cards at Kmart, she scratched them and gave the codes to person on the phone.
While she thought it was strange that she couldn't pay her debt back slowly over time, the alarm bells were drowned out by the fear of missing her upcoming trip.
She had booked some accommodation on AirBnb and believes the scammers knew she was planning to go overseas.
"I think somehow they knew," she said. "The other thing is they knew I was on a disability pension. That's not something I advertise at all."
As unlikely as it sounds, Maree's is not an uncommon story, according to the ACCC.
"Scammers are increasingly getting their victims to pay with iTunes gift cards as they can quickly on-sell them and pocket the money," ACCC Deputy Chair Delia Rickard said.
The commonly used scams targeting Australians include:
• Tax scams - these include the one which Maree fell victim to, in which someone pretending to be from the ATO threatens imminent arrest if a fine isn't paid.
• Catch-a-hacker scam - scammers pretend to be from Telstra and will ask their target to help catch a hacker who's trying to get into their PC or smart devices. The scammers use this sham story to convince the victim to buy iTunes cards and share the code as a "trap" for catching the hacker.
• Centrelink scams - the scammer pretends to be from Centrelink and tells their victim they're entitled to an additional payment in welfare benefits but they need to pay a "release fee" in iTunes gift cards.
Anyone asking for payment via gift cards should be an immediate red flag as no legitimate business would seek payment in such a way.
"If someone asks you to pay for anything using an iTunes gift card, it is a scam. There are never any circumstances where a legitimate business or government department will ask for payment this way," Ms Rickard said.
"The scammers are very persistent once they have a victim hooked and will, for example, keep their victim on the phone while they're in a store buying the gift cards. Once a victim has bought the card, the scammer will get them to quickly read the serial number on the back - it's this information they use to then on-sell the gift card," she added.
"If you pay for a scammer's con with iTunes gift cards it's nearly impossible to get your money back. Don't ever believe the scammer's lies, no matter how convincing they sound."