Concerned by the Optus data breach? Here’s how to protect against online scams and hacks

How safe is my personal data and what can I do to protect myself against online scams and hacks?
These are questions facing Australians in the wake of the massive , which saw the private information of millions of customers compromised by hackers.
From internet banking to your , Medicare and tax file numbers, much of our most sensitive and valuable data lives online, leaving it vulnerable to increasingly sophisticated hacks and scams.
Despite this, there are some simple steps phone and internet users can take to better protect their data and guard against scams and digital ID theft.

Here’s what you need to know.

Common scams to watch out for: From phishing to remote access

The has been “an enormous wake-up call” not just for consumers, but for “any organisation in Australia that holds private consumer data”, Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) Deputy Chair Delia Rickard told SBS News.
The ACCC runs the Scamwatch website, which provides information to consumers and small businesses on how to recognise, avoid and report scams.
The Optus breach has provided even more fodder for scammers to target victims.

“Scammers will use the data breach and target people in any way that they can. This means you will likely notice an increased number of phishing emails, phone calls, and SMS or social media messages,” Scamwatch warns.

For those feeling “vulnerable as a result of the Optus breach”, there are a number of steps that can be taken to help better protect your information online, Ms Rickard said.
“Make sure your device is secure. Have strong passwords and different passwords for different accounts. Don’t give remote access to your computer, don’t click on links, and never share personal information or banking information, no matter who someone says that they are,” she said.
According to Scamwatch, Australians between January and September this year, with more than 146,000 reported victims.

Phishing scams, where scammers send a text message or email masquerading as a legitimate business in an attempt to extract identity or financial information, were the most common, with more than 44,000 reports in 2022 so far.

Source: SBS News

“Identity theft is a huge problem in Australia,” Ms Rickard said.

“The number one scam we see is phishing scams, which is designed to get your personal information so that scammers can pretend to be you so that they have enough information to be able to access bank accounts, access superannuation accounts, open accounts in your name, and it really causes a nightmare of trouble unfortunately.”
False billing, online shopping scams, identity theft, and remote access scams – where scammers pretend to be from a legitimate business offering technical support – were the next most common scams in 2022.

“Remote access scams (also known as technical support scams) usually involve scammers contacting people over the phone to get access to their computers and to steal their money,” the Australian Cyber Security Centre (ACSC) warns.

A graphic showing the top 10 scams by amount from January-September 2022

Source: SBS News

Investment scams took the biggest financial toll on victims, resulting in more than $267 million reported lost so far this year.

Dating and romance scams were the next most costly, with more than $23 million lost, followed by remote access scams, false billing and phishing scams.

How to protect yourself online

According to the ACSC, the top steps internet users can take to protect themselves from hacks and scams are:

  • Turning on automatic software updates
  • Regularly backing up your devices
  • Switching on (a system where users are only granted access to an account after providing multiple pieces of evidence).
  • Using strong rather than passwords
  • Securing mobile devices and watching out for cyber scams
Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN) CEO Andrew Williams recommends internet users check their online accounts, including banking and superannuation, regularly.
“A lot of people don’t check [their accounts] very regularly. So do that. And that way, you can really see quite quickly whether there’s been any nefarious activity in your accounts,” he said.
“And if you have seen that kind of activity, then alert the bank or the telco or whoever that account’s with alert them as quickly as possible, so that you can prevent the damage from escalating … They can freeze the account. And in many cases … losses can be recovered as well.”
Cyber safety expert Susan McLean told SBS News that while technology “can make our lives a lot easier” it’s important to understand the negatives and be able to take risk minimisation steps in order to get the best out of it.
“So I would never say don’t use internet banking, but I would say, make sure you log on and log off. Never log on to any app or platform through social media. You always log in with an email that’s separate, and log out when you’re finished. And be mindful of what you click on,” she said.
“If you get a text, or an email, you know that you were not expecting, then don’t deal with it. Pick up the phone, ring a number you have found for that organisation off the internet, and check: ‘Did you just send me this? Have you asked for that?’ Banks and other legitimate platforms will not ask for personal details or passwords or passcodes with a text message or an email.”

“It really is every man or woman for themselves. We’ve all got to step up because the systems are not protecting us. Therefore we have to protect ourselves.

Why talking about scams and asking for help is key

Tackling the stigma around falling victim to online scams is key, Ms Rickard said.
“I don’t think there’s a single person in Australia who could not get scammed,” she said.
“And the more we talk to each other about our experiences with being scammed … the more we can help protect each other.”
“The more we understand how scams work, the harder it is for them to actually turn us into victims.”

Digital literacy varies across the community, and Mr Williams said “vulnerable consumer cohorts” who may “not be as digitally literate as others” should not be afraid to ask for help.

“If you don’t understand how things work, ask for help. There’s many, many different organisations that can assist with that,” he said.
These include the Australian Seniors Computer Clubs Association and the Good Things Foundation, which supports digital inclusion through community-based skills programs.
“If you have been scammed or you think you’ve been scammed, and let’s face it, we’ve all been scammed at some stage, put your hand up and talk about it. There’s no shame in it,” Mr Williams said.

“And we find that a lot of consumers, whether they’re senior, whether they are of any other cohort as well, a lot of people find that there’s a stigma of being scammed, but the best thing to do is speak up and ask for help and get it fixed as quickly as possible.”

Resources and assistance

  • The ACCC’s Scamwatch website provides information on how to recognise, avoid and report scams:
  • IDCare supports victims of identity theft, including those affected by the Optus data breach:
  • The Australian Cyber Security Centre provides information on how to protect yourself online at:
  • The Australian Seniors Computer Clubs Association provides information on digital training and support for older Australians:
  • The Good Things Foundation supports “socially excluded people to improve their lives through digital”:
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