Deepfake cybercrims fleece $39 million from finance worker

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Rising childcare costs raise red flags, dog lover leaves his house to animal charity, and why it's time to be extra cautious on video calls. Here are five things you may have missed this week.

Rising childcare costs taking a toll

As out-of-pocket costs for childcare continue to rise, the proportion of children from low-income families attending early childhood education is falling, according to new data released by the Productivity Commission.

deepfake cybercrims fleece $39 million from finance worker

Minderoo Foundation's Jay Weatherill, who says this is concerning but unsurprising, claims the entire sector is well overdue for reform - and that the Activity Test should be the first thing to go. The Activity Test calculates families' childcare subsidies based on the number of hours spent working or undertaking other activities.

The Productivity Commission and ACCC have both called for it to be abolished or amended.

"More affordable early childhood education and care will ease cost-of-living pressure without driving up inflation," Weatherill says.

"Children from disadvantaged backgrounds disproportionately miss out on early childhood education and care. These years are crucial for children's development and kids shouldn't be missing out just because of their family circumstances."

Universally accessible, high-quality early childhood education would help all children to thrive and serve as a solution to the nation's cost-of-living crisis, he says. "It's time for access to early learning to be recognised by systems as a foundational right for every child and an investment in Australia's future."

For the love of dogs

A man who adopted two dogs from the Animal Welfare League Qld has left his Strathpine house to the charity, which goes to auction today. The man, who died in his fifties, found much solace in his beloved pets during the challenging times before his death.

The three-bedroom house at 4 Wordsworth St, Strathpine, a suburb of Moreton Bay, was built in the 1970s and has dual-living potential. Numerous bidders had registered for the auction in the lead up, expressing as much interest in supporting the AWLQ as they did in the actual house.

AWLQ CEO Katie Garrett says gifts in wills are becoming more common as people become more comfortable discussing their intentions before passing away.

"We can't do any of our work without the support of our community, and these acts of giving just mean so much for us, and mean we can keep going, and be here long into the future," she told The Courier Mail.

"But certainly, someone leaving their entire house to us like this person has is not the norm, which is why it is so humbling for myself and my team," she said. The median house price in Strathpine is $676,000, according to PropTrack.

Take a fresh look at your finances

In an effort to prevent future hardship, The Salvation Army is encouraging Australians to adopt some simple money tips. The Salvos are seeing a worrying rise in people feeling stressed about money and needing help because of dire financial circumstances - the charity assisted 13% more people in 2023 than the year before.

Rising interest rates and rent costs have significantly impacted more than a third of Australians, causing 17.5% to cut back on their insurance cover and one in five to forego medical help when needed.

The fallout from Christmas spending is also being felt - 31% of people used a credit card (up from 18% in 2022) and 15% relied on buy-now, pay-later options (up from 7.6%) to pay for Christmas.

"These past years have been tough for many and it's clear from what we are seeing on the frontline, and from our research, that people are finding it hard to manage their finances," says Kristen Hartnett from The Salvation Army's Moneycare financial counselling team.

The Salvos suggest people opt for cash payments wherever possible, to sidestep retailers' fees and, but also to slow spending and be more mindful about where their money is going.

If they're struggling to pay a bill, the Salvos encourage people to organise an affordable repayment plan with the relevant company. Focusing on a single action can also be helpful, whether it's exploring a better insurance deal, renegotiating your interest rate, checking they receive all eligible rebates or getting help from a financial counsellor.

"Sometimes, taking a few small active steps in the right direction can change the course of your financial situation for years to come," Hartnett says.

Crap at breakups

Nothing says closure like throwing away an ex's love letters and belongings, but more than 75% of Australians hold on to their ex's stuff after a breakup - and one in four of them keep these reminders around for more than two years.

Toilet paper company Who Gives a Crap is bringing back its Flush Your Ex initiative this Valentine's Day, inviting Aussies to send in their old love letters and cards to be turned into recycled toilet paper.

Relationship and Intimacy Coach Susie Kim says removing items from past relationships is essential to moving on romantically: "Holding on to things from your ex can often be a sign that you're not fully ready to move on and heal," she says. Two-thirds of the 5009 surveyed Aussies also acknowledge that holding on to an ex's things can impact future relationships.

Who Gives a Crap says the initiative gives heartbroken Aussies permission to get petty and find closure, while knowing that someone, somewhere will be wiping their bum with their ex's sweet nothings. Send your old love letters to Good Goods Pty Ltd, Attn: Flush Your Ex, Level 4/54 Wellington St, Collingwood VIC 3066

Deepfake cybercrims fleece firm out of $39 million

What hope is there for the rest of us now that a finance worker in Hong Kong has been tricked into handing over $39 million to scammers using a deepfake video call using AI to imitate his superiors.

Everyone on the multi-person video was fake, including the employee's UK-based chief financial officer. The employee had initially been suspicious on first seeing the phishing email sent to several people within the company, but proceeded after verifying the request on the video call.

The man, whose identity and that of the scammed company has not publicly been released, was then convinced to transfer the $39 million in 15 transactions involving five bank accounts. When he later grew suspicious, he contacted the company's headquarters to verify that the transaction was genuine.

Advances in AI technology mean scammers can take on a person's likeness and copy their voice almost immediately after video footage they can use as a reference is posted online.

According to a report in the Financial Times, there are now 46 million cyber attacks launched every day, many of them are targeted at financial institutions. For a deeper dive into cybersecurity, scams and AI, pick up the March issue of Money Magazine, on sale February 29 in newsagents.

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Joanna Tovia is a senior journalist at Money magazine. She is the former personal finance editor of The Daily Telegraph and author of Eco-Wise & Wealthy, a book about saving money by going green at home. She has worked as a journalist in the US, UK and Australia writing about money, travel, design and wellbeing. Connect with her on LinkedIn.