Greater Shepparton City Council has warned the public of a potential phone scam, with callers posing as council officials to get your personal information.
In a statement, council said it was not currently conducting any customer surveys and advised residents not to provide any information.
Council said it would not ask residents to provide or update those details over the phone.
If you’re not sure about the legitimacy of a call, hang up and call council on (03) 5832 9700 or the Shepparton Police Station on 5820 5777.
Scams targeting multicultural communities on the rise
Scams on the rise
Scams across Australia have been on the rise in recent years, but the growth in losses has been more pronounced in culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) communities like Gewa’s, according to an ACCC report. In 2020 alone, CALD communities lost $22 million to scams, an increase of some 60% on the 2019 figures.
CALD communities ‘more vulnerable’
Delia Rickard, deputy chair of the ACCC, tells CHOICE these figures, which are only the losses reported to ScamWatch or financial institutions, are probably a gross underestimation.
She says CALD communities are probably less likely to report scam losses than the broader community due to cultural factors and the spectre of shame in small, tight-knit communities.
CALD communities are probably less likely to report scam losses than the broader community due to cultural factors
“Certainly the CALD communities are more vulnerable to some types of scams, we have seen more threat-based scams and visa-based scams,” Rickard says. “We see lots of investment-based scams as well, particularly in the last few years. Some of these will be in-language targeting people of a particular community.”
Investment and romance scams remain the two biggest reported scam types affecting CALD communities, as well as the broader population. But there are other scams, such as callers impersonating Chinese government authorities, that are specifically targeting migrants, she says.
Chinese authority scam
Qing is a Chinese international student studying law in Sydney. In April this year she was contacted (in Mandarin) by scammers pretending to be from the Chinese social media company WeChat. They then forwarded her on to someone else pretending to be from the Chinese police.
Qing was told her identity had been used in a case of fraud in China, and over several days the scammers tried to get more information out of her, including banking statements. Qing says the scam was sophisticated and that they already had some of her identification information when they initially contacted her.
‘I don’t want to get into any trouble’
“I was suspicious, but I thought there was the slight possibility that it might be true, although just a slight possibility,” she tells CHOICE. “I don’t want to get into any trouble or anything.”
She says the scammers eventually gave up after Qing grew increasingly suspicious and declined to provide certain information. Qing says she was lucky not to lose any money, but knows it could easily have been different.
“I can see how people would get scared, when you’re scared and you’re worried you might give them what they want, and especially because you’re not in China, there’s nothing you can do about it,” she says.
Preventing scams and protecting communities
Donna Askew, director of partnerships and community development at Eastern Community Legal Centre in Melbourne, says they have worked extensively in collaboration with local community groups to develop scam prevention and education materials delivered in English and translated into 12 community languages.
“We absolutely do see targeting by scammers preying on vulnerabilities of certain communities,” she says.
“People can be targeted across all ages and cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds – but in particular CALD communities, older people, those experiencing financial distress, and people with English as a second language and sometimes lower levels of literacy or unstable visa status.”
It impacts people’s lives, their ability or willingness to reach out for help, because there is so much shame attached to being scammed
Donna Askew, Eastern Community Legal Centre, Melbourne
Askew says the impact scams have on culturally diverse communities are huge, in part because they’re comparatively small.
“There’s so much shame associated with [scams], which impacts not only the person, but the broader community,” she says. “And it also impacts people’s lives, their ability or willingness to reach out for help, because there is so much shame attached to being scammed.”
Askew says programs aimed at preventing scams and helping victims should be developed in close consultation with culturally diverse communities.
Labor says more needs to be done
The Labor party last year called for the creation of a National Anti-Scam Centre, which would bring together police, consumer groups, banks, telcos and regulators to combat scams. Labor accused the government of failing multicultural communities and the broader Australian public by not doing enough to stop scams.
CHOICE sent questions to the office of Stephen Jones, Labor’s Shadow Minister for Financial Services, asking how the proposed National Anti-Scam Centre would differ from the ACCC’s ScamWatch, but we didn’t get a response.
Government defends its record
Meanwhile, Assistant Treasurer Michael Sukkar last year said “it’s simply untrue to say the government isn’t acting when it comes to scams”.
“Last year, we implemented the ‘Reducing Scam Calls Code’, which requires telcos to detect, trace and block scam calls,” he says. “We’ve seen over 214 million calls blocked already as a result.
“The ACCC works with its partners across government and industry to disrupt scams. We’ll continue to work with banks, telcos and regulators to support and protect Australians against scams.”