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As scams become increasingly common and sophisticated, could you be in danger of falling for one? Our financial and Centrelink expert Narelle Cooper shares information about a widespread Centrelink scam targeting seniors and how to recognise if you’re being scammed.  

If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck and quacks like a duck then sadly in this day and age it MAY NOT be a duck. Metaphorically speaking.

Have you ever read a scam story and thought ‘how did they fall for that one?’ and yet it is becoming increasingly difficult to see the trick until after the event and then we are one of ‘those people’! Let me assure you, before you beat yourself up, that these scammers are getting very good at what they set out to do.

This article is not about being scared to use the computer or answer the phone, it is just being aware and giving you some tools to work with.

Just last month one of our clients contacted us about a Centrelink call they received that seemed suspicious.

Our clients were not at home at the time and the caller left a message saying they were from Centrelink and that the clients needed to call them back immediately. The number that was given was an ordinary (02) Sydney number.

It’s important to note that Centrelink never asks for personal information over the phone and will never leave a threatening message (ie if you do not call back, we will cut your pension or something similar). They do call on occasions, but ONLY if you have an outstanding issue, for example, an application being processed. The call will come up on your screen (if you have one) as a ‘private number’, but these calls are rare.

We were more than happy to try the number on behalf of our client, however, to our great disappointment, the number just rang out, with no one answering our call.

This was more than likely a scam set up to get personal information. Personal information can be used in all sorts of ways. Though not necessarily as glamorous as Hollywood would like us to believe, Identity theft can be an issue in lots of unexpected ways. Do a bit of digging and you find that the sale of personal information is a big, huge business and has so many layers where your personal information can be sold and resold. Then used for unsolicited contacts or fraudulently obtaining loans, driver’s licences or even passports.

Now these ‘scammers’ do not only use Centrelink as an excuse to extract information or money from people but as Centrelink is our area of expertise, I will only be addressing this approach. The first step to protecting yourself is to know when to hang up the phone or delete the text (SMS) or email.

Spotting a potential Centrelink scam

So, if you think the telephone call, email or SMS message you have received is suspicious, just remember the following points:

  • Centrelink never ask for personal information over the phone, via email or SMS, they already have all your personal details. Including your bank account numbers.
  • Centrelink never ask for any form of payment over the phone or via email or SMS.
  • Centrelink never get you to reply by email or SMS to any electronic message they send you.
  • Centrelink would never visit your home to give you a payment.
  • Centrelink never work with other companies to offer you special deals. (ie a telephone company).
  • Centrelink would never ask you to click on internet links in a SMS or email.
  • Centrelink would never ask training organisations to contact you on their behalf.
  • Centrelink would never contact you about being eligible for an increase in your payment, any increases happen automatically.

Who can help with reporting or identifying scams

Whether you think you have been scammed, want to report a suspicious contact or to get information on the type of scams that are out there, one of these organisations will be able to help:

  • SCAMWATCH: Run by the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission (ACCC), Scam Watch is the first stop for information and reporting scams.
  • IDCARE: is a charity organisation offering a free national identity support service.
  • ACORN: Australian Cybercrime Online Reporting Network run by the Australian Government offers information and reporting options.
  • MONEYSMART: part of ASIC and run by the Australian Government, MoneySmart provides information relating to all forms of scams.

What to do if you think you’re being scammed

These two simple steps will help you if you receive one of these calls and you are not sure the contact is actually from Centrelink:

  1. Don’t answer any questions over the phone, just ask for a contact name and number and tell them that you will get back to them. This will give you time to assess the validity of the contact. Of course, if they do not give you their name or contact number then HANG UP immediately.
  2. Contact one of the above organisations.

CAPA Services is more than happy to help (no charge or obligation) if it stops any Centrelink scam from being successful.

On a final note, during 2018; the statistics show 17,574 reports were made to Scam Watch that resulted in over $107 million dollars lost to scammers (all types, not just Centrelink). Overall in 2018, there were 177,516 scams reported.

Narelle Cooper
Narelle is a Director and co-founder of CAPA Services (Centre for Age Pension Administration Services). Narelle has more than 30 years of knowledge and experience in the finance industry and liaising with Centrelink. CAPA Services was born from a desire to improve the quality of life for their clients by acting as the ‘go-between’ and removing the stress from the whole experience of interacting with Centrelink. And while many would find this frustrating, Narelle found that she was not only good at it – but she also enjoyed being able to help people navigate the process.
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