Australia’s consumer watchdog has flagged an alarming spike in an elaborate scam that even the most clued-in Australian are falling for.
Text scams pretending to be Australian toll operator Linkt chasing up unpaid tolls have fleeced thousands of Australians of more than $180,000 since it came on the scene in March this year.
But according to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, reports have spiked in the two weeks between October 2 and 16.
One Australian to flag the scam recently is Australian actor Magda Szubanski of Kath and Kim fame.
“If you get a random text from Linkt DO NOT CLICK,” she tweeted.
“It’s a f***ing scam. The site looks incredibly legit.
“Just spoke to the bank, and they said heaps of people been sucked in.”
Scammers make first contact by text, and unlike other text scams, the spelling and grammar are correct, and the links appear legitimate (with the brand name in the URL).
Once on the scam page, which shares branding, colour schemes and formatting of the legitimate Linkt site, victims are shown an amount owed with a field to enter their bank details.
Some victims have reported a prompt warning of a sizeable overdue fee if not paid in a few days. Once the details have been entered – the scammers have all the details they need to make transactions using your card information.
A flurry of Australians, some of who perhaps break the mould of common scam victims, have taken to social media to warn outers of the elaborate and convincing scam.
One Sydneysider told news.com.au that he’d be eating noodles for dinner for the next week after falling victim on Monday.
“I’m normally very good with spotting [scams],” Ben Turnbull said.
“I’ve seen some very well-crafted ones that could get people, but this is the first one that’s truly fooled me.
“Considering I use tolls every day for work, and my account does get very low sometimes, it was definitely a well-crafted scam.”
To make it even more convincing, scammers used the same number which had already, legitimately, messaged Mr Turnbull in the past.
“Even when I clicked on it was put your license plate in – the site looked very legitimate,’ he said.
“Even the hyperlinks down the bottom of the page took you to the actual Linkt website – so I did.
“I put my card number in the prompt and didn’t think anything of it till [Tuesday] night.
“I looked at my account, and four transactions from a Coles in Hurstville for $250 each took $1000 out of my account.”
Mr Turnbull said he would need to scrape by for the next few days as he and his bank work to get the stolen money refunded.
“I only get paid fortnightly, and it was over half my pay, so I’ll be having noodles for dinner for the next week,” he laughed.
“I’m lucky enough to not have many expenses so I’ll be able to make it through.”
A senior employee at a large software company took to Reddit to explain how he also got caught out.
“It’s literally my job to advise customers about topics similar to this,” he wrote.
“I got this text message on Tuesday last week; it was just before a work meeting, so I was a little rushed when reading it and didn’t apply my typical review of the wording in the message and URL.
“I also did use a tunnel in September and didn’t have my tag in the car so thought I may actually have an outstanding bill.
“I hurriedly clicked on the link, logged in and saw the outstanding amount.
“The site was very convincing … It absolutely felt real. I put my credit card details in and “paid” the amount. I closed the site and then got into my meeting and went on with my day.”
He later learned the scammers had taken $5000 which the bank later retrieved.
An ACCC spokesperson told news.com that between March 2 and October 2, Scamwatch received close to 3000 reports related to Toll/Linkt scams, with over $180,000 reported losses – but reports had recently intensified.
“Scamwatch received more than 1500 cases between October 2 to 16 with reported losses of over $60,000,” a spokesperson said.
“The number of reports related to Toll/Linkt scams received in October is the highest since we became aware of this particular scam in March.”
Spot a scam
The ACCC advises:
• Do not click on any links in unexpected messages. Even if you expect a message, it’s best to access the information directly from a website or a source you have found independently.
• Pay attention to typos or grammatical mistakes in text messages. Delete the message and do not respond.
• If you think you have an unpaid bill, contact the company separately through their legitimate channels.
• Do not reply to the message. Delete and block the number.
• If you think you have fallen for this toll scam and lost money, contact your bank immediately.
• Check your credit card bill, if a suspicious transaction is found, contact the credit card provider immediately.
• Do not authorise payment or provide the confirmation code if you are unsure of the transaction or payment.
• If you are concerned for any personal info lost, please contact IDCARE for support.