Centrelink is today launching a dedicated scams helpline to assist clients who have fallen victim to fraudsters or identity thieves posing as departmental staff.
Scammers use many tactics to extract money or personal information from unsuspecting victims and impersonating Centrelink’s employees is one method that is sadly becoming more common.
The Department of Human Services received more than 1270 calls for help in the past six months from people who had either lost money, or had passed on sensitive personal information that might be used to steal their identity.
The new helpline is there to provide advice and assistance to clients on what steps they need to take next to protect themselves from further financial loss.
That can include increasing the security and identity verification settings around their Centrelink accounts, or referring them to external agencies which specialise in assisting scam victims.
The launch of the helpline also coincides with the start of Scams Awareness Week and serves as a timely reminder to all welfare recipients about the need to remain vigilant when contacted by people asking for money or personal information such as bank account details.
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s Scamwatch service received almost 33,000 reports of threat-based impersonation scams in 2017 where people claimed to be from a variety of government departments.
Over $4.7 million was reported lost and more than 2800 people gave their personal information to these scammers.
The methods used by scammers are many and varied and include contacting people by phone, email, text messages, or even through social media accounts.
One current Centrelink-related scam involves a caller who claims to work for the agency and is seeking to recover a debt.
The caller is aggressive and tells the victim that their benefit will be cut off within days if they do not pay up.
Pension recipient Rosa was a victim of the scam. She was told she needed to pay a $300 penalty and would lose her pension if she did not pay.
The scammer then convinced Rosa to buy $300 worth of iTunes gift cards and rang her back the next day to get the electronic codes required to redeem them online.
The new helpline number is 1800 941 126. It is only open to Centrelink clients who are currently receiving a welfare payment.
For more information about scams and how to avoid them, people can also visit humanservices.gov.au/scams.
Additional case study:
‘Sarah’ received an email that appeared to be from Centrelink advising her that she was entitled to claim a ‘subsidy benefit’.
To claim the benefit, she was told she needed to provide copies of her identity documents, including her Medicare Card and/or Health Care Card to confirm her eligibility.
The email contained a link to a website that allowed Sarah to upload the digital copies of her identity documents. The website looked genuine and she followed the instructions.
She then received confirmation that her subsidy benefit claim was submitted successfully and would be paid within two days.
After a week, Sarah became suspicious and contacted the Department of Human Services which advised her that a subsidy benefit did not exist.
Because of the likelihood that the scammers would try and use Sarah’s documents to commit identity fraud, messages were attached to her departmental records to alert staff of the potential that her records could be misused.
Sarah was also referred to IDCARE, a not for profit organisation that helps victims of identity crime. IDCARE provided Sarah additional advice and support, which included putting credit bans in place. The credit bans stopped scammers from being able to obtain credit cards, payday and other loans in Sarah’s name.
Press Release on behalf of:
The Hon Michael Keenan MP
Minister for Human Services
Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Digital Transformation