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Time to hang up on phone scammers: ACCC

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It's time to hang up on phone scammers claiming to be from Centrelink, with the growing scam costing Australians more than $27,000 this year.

That's the blunt advice from Australian Competition and Consumer Commission deputy chair Delia Rickard said.

"If you receive a phone call out of the blue from someone claiming to be from the Department of Human Services or Centrelink claiming that you are eligible for an increase in your pension or benefit - hang up," Rickard said.

The ACCC's Scamwatch has received more than 2200 reports of this scam since January, which has cost Australians more than $27,000.

Four individuals have reported losses of $1000 or more.

That is a sharp increase from the $3500 lost from 560 reported contacts in 2015.

"The scammer will claim that you've been sent a letter about an increase in your benefits and not responded to it. They will then claim that your file has been sent to Canberra and that you can either go to Canberra to fill out the required form or you can pay a fee and have the forms sent to you," Rickard said.

Scammers usually ask for payment via wire money transfer or iTunes gift cards, and they often resort to intimidation.

"To push you into paying this money, the scammer might threaten that you will not receive any further benefits until the situation is resolved," Rickard said.

The Department of Human Services will never ask people to deposit money in order to receive a payment.

"If in doubt, don't use any contact details provided by the caller," Rickard said. "Look up the government department or organisation yourself in the phone book or online, and phone or email them."

Five tips to protect yourself

1. If you receive a phone call out of the blue from someone claiming to be from Centrelink and offering an increase in benefits, hang up.

2. If you have any doubts about the identity of any caller who claims to represent a government department, contact the department directly using independently sources details.

3. Never give your personal or financial details over the phone unless you made the call and the phone number came from a trusted source.

4. Any requests to send money via a gift card (such as iTunes) should be treated as highly suspicious as they are not considered a legitimate source of payment.

5. Never send any money via wire transfer or any other means to anyone you do not know or trust.

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Sharyn McCowen is Money's digital editor. She has a degree in journalism from Charles Sturt University, and was a newspaper reporter before moving to magazines and finance.
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