The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has already received 47 reports of scams since September 2019.
It comes after Dean Hancock – a relative of Robert and Patrick Salway, who were killed defending a property in fire-ravaged Cobargo last week – took to Facebook to claim a fraudulent fundraising page had been set up to raise funds for Patrick’s funeral without the family’s knowledge.
He said the family were “absolutely gutted” by the “low” act and confirmed it had been reported to police.
He directed Facebook users to another fundraiser set up by a family friend that had already raised more than $21,000 for the family.
The problem is so widespread the ACCC is now encouraging the public to report dodgy fundraisers to the Scamwatch website.
It has also set up a dedicated phone number for the public to report bushfire-related scams.
The body explained the situation in a statement released yesterday afternoon.
“There are currently a wide range of appeals raising funds for people and animals affected by the bushfires. Unfortunately, some of these are scams,” the statement reads.
“Scammers are pretending to be legitimate well-known charities, creating their own charity names, and impersonating people negatively impacted by the bushfires.
“Scammers are cold-calling, direct messaging and creating fake websites and pages on social media to raise funds.”
An ACCC spokeswoman told news.com.au many scams would likely go unreported as people might not even realise they had been a victim.
She said the types of issues that were being reported included crowd-funding pages impersonating charities, calls or websites impersonating charities and scammers impersonating relatives of victims and requesting money.
Those wanting to donate to the cause are urged to protect themselves by following some simple tips.
Firstly, Australians are advised not to donate via fundraising pages on platforms that do not verify the legitimacy of the fundraiser or do not guarantee your money will be returned if the page is determined to be fraudulent.
Secondly, it’s important to be careful about crowd-funding requests as these may be fake and also come from scammers.
To avoid being stung, check the terms and conditions of funding platforms and ensure you are dealing with official organisations. If you are unsure, make your donation to an established charity instead.
The ACCC also said that if you are donating to an established charity or not-for-profit organisation, ensure it is registered and that you are on its official website by searching the Australia Charities and Not-for-profits Commission Charity Register.
And if you think you have paid money to a scammer, please contact your bank immediately.
Scamwatch also shared the information on Twitter, prompting members of the public to slam the scammers’ cruelty.
“It’s such a sad reflection of society that this tweet even needs to exist,” one social media user wrote, while another posted: “It’s unfortunate that this hotline needs to start but it’s reality that there are jerks trying to be opportunistic in these conditions and they must be stopped.”
“It’s actually unreal isn’t it …??? Lol … in time of crisis is when the devil’s scammers arise …” another wrote.
You can report suspicious donation appeals related to the bushfires at https://t.co/sWWNpu8CRr. From Tuesday 7 January the ACCC will have a dedicated reporting line for bushfire related scams on 1300 795 995. For more information see https://t.co/aYNWkmWG5x pic.twitter.com/saSRR8SX4p
— Scamwatch_gov_au (@Scamwatch_gov) January 6, 2020
Others also criticised Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s decision to link his controversial ad promoting the Government’s response to the crisis to a Liberal Party website that touted for donations to the party itself and not to firefighters.
The website link has since been removed following widespread backlash.
you can start by investigating Scott Morrison’s partisan campaign ad where he uses the ADF for liberal party propaganda and the “donate” button linked to the liberal party instead of any bushfire-related charity.
— 🏴☠️ A Crappy Pirate 🏴☠️ (@crappy_videos) January 6, 2020
Click here to make a report on the Scamwatch website or here to find more information about where to get help.
You can also reach the ACCC’s dedicated phone number to report bushfire scams on 1300 795 995.