Banking Tips

How to spot a bank impersonation scam and what to do about it


Perhaps it has happened to you. You receive a text from your bank. It seems legitimate because it comes from the same number that your bank usually texts you from and it lines up in the same chain of messages.

Possibly, though, something seems not quite right. Your bank may be asking for you to transfer a large some of money immediately or requesting you send personal data via text – not something your bank normally does.

And you’d be right to be sceptical. Consumers are being warned to be wary of phone calls and texts that appear to be from their bank or financial institution, following alarming reports of Australians losing their life savings to highly sophisticated impersonation scams.

Reports to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s (ACCC) Scamwatch indicate fraudsters are using new technology to trick their victims, by making the call appear to come from the bank’s legitimate phone number or by sending a text that appears in the same conversation thread as genuine bank messages.

Scamwatch received more than 14,000 reports about bank impersonation scams in 2022, resulting in more than $20 million in losses.

It seems scammers are getting exponentially better at appearing legitimate. Still, there are steps you can take to protect your savings.

How to spot a bank impersonation scam

According to the ACCC, communications from bank impersonation scammers often have a sense of urgency to them, such as checking a suspected transaction, authorising a payment a frozen account or moving money.

“It is critical to remember that no matter how legitimate the call or message seems, a bank won’t ask you to urgently transfer funds,” said ACCC Deputy Chair Catriona Lowe

Other signs you may be dealing with a bank impersonation scammer include:

  • The message looks different to other messages in the SMS thread, such as different wording or phrases used.
  • The message may contain a suspicious looking link. Never click on links.
  • The SMS has a telephone number to call – always verify your bank’s phone number independently.
  • The caller is telling you to transfer money to a different account to ‘keep it safe’ or for ‘further investigation’. This is not standard procedure for a bank.

What to do if you suspect you are being scammed

If you do suspect something is not quite right about the message or phone call, the first step is to take a beat.

If you have received an SMS with a telephone number to call, do not use it. Instead, call your bank direct on a number you have sourced yourself.

Likewise, hang up if you receive a call from someone claiming to be from your bank requesting you to transfer money to ‘keep it safe’. Ask for a reference number and call your bank back using contact details you have found independently.

Never provide online banking passwords, one-time security codes, pins or tokens to anyone over the phone. Contact your bank or financial institution immediately if you think you have been scammed.

The ACCC recommends following the Stop, Think, Protect protocol.

Stop – take your time before giving money or personal information.

Think – ask yourself if the message or call could be fake.

Protect – act quickly if something feels wrong. Contact your bank and report scams to Scamwatch.

Being aware of these types of scams is a major step toward guarding against them. Remember to follow these simple steps and you’ll be well on your way to protecting yourself and your finances.

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