Social media warning after Australians lose millions to scams

Think twice before donating to a stranger on social media.

Think twice before donating to a stranger on social media. Photo: Getty

Tales of natural disasters and personal crises might put people in a giving mood, but Australians are being warned to take a longer look at someone’s story before handing over cash.

Research by AAP FactCheck shows a series of posts appealing for help on popular community Facebook groups are being edited later to lure users into clicking suspicious links.

The posts are disguised as distressed pleas for help, asking for things like returning an injured dog to an owner, with scammers asking group members to share the post to reach a wider audience.

After the post has been shared, the content is changed to something unrelated, encouraging users to click links.


Examples of a likely scam posts asking for help repeatedly posted across Facebook. Source: AAP FactCheck/Facebook

A spokeswoman for the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission told AAP FactCheck the purpose of these scams is to elicit money or personal information for the purpose of identity theft.

The findings come after Australians lost more than $10.4 million to identity theft and $416,020 to fake charities between January and November last year, according to Scamwatch.

For both cases, a large amount of the lost money was stolen via social networking scams.

Losses to fake charities were particularly high in Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria – states that were hardest hit by floods in 2022.

KnowBe4 security awareness advocate Jacqueline Jayne told TND scams such as fake charities are prolific on social media sites, particularly Facebook – and are often successful.

She said the issue was brought into sharp relief in the aftermath of the 2019 bushfires, which saw the ACCC forced to set up a hotline dedicated to the reporting of bushfire-related scams.

“Unfortunately, the reason that these type of scams are so successful … it’s because we’re kind,” Ms Jayne said.

“We’re humans and we want to help.”

How to spot a scam

When it comes to social media posts asking for reposts, research is key.

The first step would be clicking on the profile of the person who made the post to determine whether it is legitimate or fake, taking into account the profile’s number of friends, photos and prior posts.

You could also search keywords from the post in the social media site’s search bar to see if the post has been made before, and if an image has been included. You can upload the picture to Google image search to see if it has come from elsewhere on the internet.

If someone is asking for donations, the same tips apply.

It is also fairly easy to find out if a charity is real or not by checking the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission website, which has a search function for charities registered in Australia.

Ms Jayne said you will need to research individual charities to find out the percentage of donations that are actually given out, as charities often use a varying amount of donations to pay for costs like administrative work.

When it is an individual asking for help, the task of determining authenticity becomes much harder.

“I’m a bit cautious of things that pop up on social media sites that really pull on your heartstrings, to be honest, because we are helpful people … and we lean towards wanting to believe that people are telling us the truth,” Ms Jayne said.

“So if you see something and think, ‘I would really like to help this person’, spend some time doing research and due diligence to find out if it’s real, because people can copy other people’s legitimate stuff so it looks real.”

She said she wouldn’t donate unless she trusted the person, either in real life or after following them online for a long time.

People should also be aware that just because the plea for help might be shared by reputable online news sites, that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re legitimate, Ms Jayne said.

Top tips to protect yourself from scams

Ms Jayne’s top tips to stay safe from social media scams include:

  • Do your research into organisations or people asking for help before donating
  • Use third parties like PayPal to keep your banking details safe, and to have a higher chance of getting money back if you find out you’ve been scammed
  • If you’re suspicious of someone asking for donations through platforms like GoFundMe, report them to the site
  • Before donating, ask yourself whether you’re prepared to lose the particular amount of money
  • Don’t let emotion cloud your better judgment.

“People are very manipulative; you don’t need to be a cyber criminal to do these scams, you can just be a nasty person,” she said.

“Unfortunately in this day and age, it’s hard just to give without thinking it could be a scam.”

Stay informed, daily
A FREE subscription to The New Daily arrives every morning and evening.
The New Daily is a trusted source of national news and information and is provided free for all Australians. Read our editorial charter
Copyright © 2024 The New Daily.
All rights reserved.