COUNTING THE COST: Storm Financial victim Sean McArdle with some of the huge pile of paperwork that he has had to prepare in the court case against the company.
COUNTING THE COST: Storm Financial victim Sean McArdle with some of the huge pile of paperwork that he has had to prepare in the court case against the company. Brett Wortman

Scams evolve as growing threats

EACH day, ordinary Australians are being bombarded with scams and rip-offs. Many of those scams are cleverly disguised as genuine offers.

Thousands of people are still falling into the trap, losing their life savings, retirement funds and livelihoods in the process.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) warn fake lotteries, advance-fee frauds, get-rich-quick schemes and miracle health cures are some of the favoured means of separating the unwary from their money.

Others include chain letter and pyramid schemes, investment scams, money transfer requests, banking and online account scams, mobile phone scams, employment scams and small business scams.

But they all have one common theme, which is to trick people into disclosing personal information to steal identities or directly access funds.

Choice spokesperson Ingrid Just said the Storm Financial scandal was definitely one of the worst scams in recent history.

Townsville-based Storm Financial had more than 14,000 clients who had invested billions, but were left stranded when the company collapsed two years ago.

The collapse was mainly due to over-ambitious growth plans, encouraging huge debt among customers and paying top dollar for multiple acquisitions.

Forensic police officer Sean McArdle, 43, was just one of the victims to be stung by the scandal. Having lost millions, the Coolum local said it wasn’t just about losing dollars, but also livelihoods.

“Most of the victims have lost absolutely everything,” he said.

“Many of them will live in debt that they have no chance of repaying.”

Having invested his portfolio with the Commonwealth Bank, Sean said he was disgusted with the way they had handled the situation.

“There’s no insurance for these people who have lost everything,” he said.

“They were lied to and have been left to fend for themselves.”

Mr McArdle said his property and his life had been placed on hold, even though he had taken all the precautions when it came to investing his money.

The only investments he makes now are in lawyers. “Every cent I earn goes to preparing my next lawyer’s bill,” he said.

Mrs Just said people had trusted the company and thought they were doing the right thing.

“People invested their life savings into an organisation that wasn’t transparent in the way they were operating,” she said.

But the Storm Financial situation is not the only scandal to affect Australians over the past few years. Mrs Just said identity theft and scams through email and SMS were among those that hit the hardest.

“ALMOST 70% of all email in Australia is spam-related,” she said.

“And most of those emails are scams.”

She said that with the advent of technology, scams were becoming more frequent.

To avoid risky situations, Mrs Just said people should be wary of responding to addresses with unknown senders.

“Never give out personal information and always protect your identity,” she said.

Mrs Just said that in 2007, 5.8 million Australians had been subject to scams and of those 453,100 people lost money to a combined value of $1billion.

“It is really important that people report these things so that others don’t fall into the same traps,” she said.

With the recent flood disaster in Queensland, Mrs Just said there was a possibility of an increase in scammers targeting those who were in vulnerable positions.

“It’s really sad when people take advantage of those going through stressful times,” she said.

North Coast Police Region acting superintendent Terry Borland said ATM and skimming scams were two that had had immense impact around the area.

With the advancement in computer technologies and the internet, Supt Borland said the initiation of more scams had become easier.

He advised people on the Sunshine Coast to be wary of the dangers of internet scams and not to release private information to anyone.

Supt Borland said that as a basic rule of thumb, people should remember nothing comes free.

“If you believe that it doesn’t sound right, then don’t engage in it,” he said.

And while he said people were embarrassed at being stung by scammers, it was important to contact Crimestoppers or their local police station if they had come across a scam or had any concerns.

Tips to avoid being scammed

  • Never provide personal information to unknown people or organisations.
  • Always research organisations to make sure they are legitimate.
  • Never leave mail in an unlocked mail box – if you are going away, get a friend to empty it each day.
  • Never sign contracts or provide personal information to people knocking at your door.
  • Never accept things on the spot.

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