12 March 2004

National Consumer Day: "If it sounds to good to be true, then it probably is"

The Australian Government today celebrated National Consumer Day by announcing enhancements to web sites and publications designed to assist consumers protect themselves against scams.

Speaking at the National Consumer Congress in Melbourne today, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasurer, the Hon Ross Cameron MP, launched updates to two consumer assistance web sites, Consumers Online and Scamwatch.

Scamwatch is the online version of the popular booklet, The Little Black Book of Scams. More than 150,000 copies of the book have been distributed over the last 12 months.

"The theme for National Consumer Day this year is If it sounds too good to be true, then it probably is". Mr Cameron said. "Scamwatch and the Little Black Book of Scams can help everyone, from young teenagers to seniors, to recognise a scam when they come across one.

"The book covers many different types of scams, including pyramid schemes, real estate scams, misleading share promotions, and product based scams such as miracle cures and instant weight loss treatments. The book also includes Scambuster classroom activities, designed to teach students to identify common scams and learn how to protect themselves against them."

The Little Black Book of Scams has been updated this year to cover some new scams in property marketing, fraudulent bank emails and other scams perpetrated over the Internet. The book is available free of charge from the Consumer Publications Hotline on 1300 305 866.

The Scamwatch site, located at www.scamwatch.gov.au, covers all the information in the Little Black Book of Scams with additional online interactive scam games like 'Scam Simulator' and 'Fraud Quiz', designed to improve consumers' scambusting skills.

Mr Cameron also announced the update of the Consumers Online web site, the Australian Government's one stop shop for consumer information.

"The site includes new content, including information on complaints, consumer rights when shopping, banking and finance, computers and the internet and shopping online", he said. Further content will be added to the site over coming months.

Consumers Online can be found at www.consumersonline.gov.au.

12 March 2004


What should I do when I suspect something maybe a scam?

The Little Black Book of Scams outlines clear strategies to help people who may suspect a scam. Basically, they come down to four essential steps:

  1. Say "No". No is always your best defence. By saying "No" or holding off, you can always agree later if an offer checks out. Why give an answer straight away when you can decide in your own time when you are ready? Genuine offers will always be around, but scammers may not return if they are delayed from making their quick buck.
  2. Look Further. Do some basic research. Talk with consumer protection agencies. Talk with your accountant or other finance professional if it is a financial offer.
  3. Question. A few pertinent questions are a good way to inform yourself. By way of example, for a financial offer you could ask whether the offer complies with the Australian Securities and Investment Commission's requirements for financial representatives.
  4. Decide. When you have had the time to get information, talk with relevant consumer agencies and probe them with some questions. You will then be in a better position to decide whether you are facing a scam or a genuine offer.

Consumers should ask themselves these questions: if someone knew how to make quick money or easily solve a complex problem, why would they be telling me? Why wouldn't they be keeping it to themselves, or publicising it in more a mainstream way?

And always remember, if an offer seems too good to be true, then it probably is.