Busy farmers and small agribusiness service providers are likely to be easy targets for what has become a growth industry in Australia in the past five years - cyber scamming.
Billing frauds, fake email requests for information, dodgy investment scams and computer hacking incidents are among an array of activities now reaping big money for keyboard criminals.
Based on reported incidents so far, Australians are expected to be electronically ripped off to the tune of about $530 million this year.
That figure is up from the $490m reported lost in 2018, which itself was a $150m increase on 2017's known losses.
Cyber con artists and hackers, mostly operating offshore, cost their victims an average $6000 each last year.
At least 3000 small businesses lost more than $4.5m according to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.
Much of those impacted were small mum and dad enterprises, including farming operations, or companies with fewer than 20 staff.
Farmers are not the only people who are busy and vulnerable, but their businesses are less likely to have the sort of skills and resources to protect themselves
Based on reports tallied by the ACCC over recent years, small and small- to mid-sized businesses accounted for about two thirds of the money lost to cyber scams which target business.
Big businesses with more than 200 staff reported just nine per cent of the $6.8 billion lost in the period.
"Farmers are not the only people who are busy and vulnerable, but their businesses are less likely to have the sort of skills and resources to protect themselves which a big ASX listed outfit will employ to stop somebody hacking into their systems or monitor questionable emails," said National Australia Bank regional customer executive, Khan Horne.
"Everybody needs to be aware of the risks and avoid making it easy for criminals to access information about you, or take money from you."
He urged sticking to some strict, but basic rules.
Never share your mobile phone; be careful about replying to invoices; never download an app from an email or text link; don't use public Wi-Fi overseas or even in local shopping centres, and install up-to-date virus protection on computers and devices to detect or block online attacks.
"Also, be very careful about revealing personal information about yourself on social media," Mr Horne warned.
"Even the name of your dog, your partner, or family members could be useful information to help criminals compile a false account or assist with identity theft."
Scams were diverse in nature and randomly targeted all ages, although losses have trended higher among people aged over 55.
NAB has itself been the target of a sophisticated phishing scam in the past week which attempted to lure customers to unwittingly give up account information.
That scam used National Australia Bank branding and a message to tell recipients their account has been restricted due to "irregular activity", then requested them to click on a link to restore the account's validity.
Phishing for details
However, doing so would redirect them to the NAB-branded phishing page, almost identical to the bank's official online banking website, but designed to harvest customers' login details.
"Never access a bank website from a link in an email, a text message, a pop up window on your computer, or from your browser history," said NAB social media consultant, Anthony Aiello.
"In recent times we've seen a lot of random emails and texts trying to trap people.
"These crooks won't necessarily try to get your money.
"They might initially seek information about you or your business, which can later be used or sold on the black market."
If you don't recall ordering that product, or the language used appears odd, or you don't bank with that institution, there's a fair chance the email is dodgy
Some fraudulent emails even trapped customers by offering them the chance to click and "unsubscribe" to future promotions or information services.
"In fact, by clicking on the link you're actually telling these guys your email address is real, which is potentially valuable for them to sell to somebody else who is dodgy," Mr Aiello said.
Be alert to risks
Staying wary of all emails, even from regular customers, suppliers or colleagues - and alerting banks or authorities to anything unusual - would help keep fraud risks at bay.
"If you don't recall ordering that product, or the language used appears odd, or you don't bank with that institution, there's a fair chance the email is dodgy," he said.
"Hover your computer cursor over the sender's email address to see if it looks correct, or ring the supplier if you feel uncertain about something you've received.
"Report anything dodgy."
Mr Horne said NAB frequently conducted "dummy runs" to test its own staff's ability to identify fake invoices or websites, and used its own social media network to highlight scams to customers and staff.
Investors, romantics conned
Investment scams and dating and romance sites have proven the most costly traps reported to the ACCC's Scamwatch and other agencies.
Last year Australians lost about $86m on fake investment opportunities offered online, with men being more likely to be the victims.
About $60m went down the drain to dud romance sites, where women were more prominent losers.
At the same time Scamwatch recorded more than $5m lost to fake billing scams; $3.2m to online shopping scams; $3.1m lost after computers were hacked and account details accessed, and $3.3m was paid out by people who had personal threats against them or somebody they knew.
In total, men reported losing about $60m last year and women almost $49m, but women owned up to being caught by more scams than men.
About 15pc of losses in 2018 were by people aged between 25 and 34; 20pc of losses were by those in the 45-54 age bracket, and almost half were by people over 55.
Mr Horne warned all age groups and business areas were equally at risk.
"I know of somebody my son's age who just lost $1900 from his account, and I know of individuals and businesses ripped off to the tune of $20,000, $80,000, or even $100,000."
For help contact www.scamwatch.gov.au or your bank
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