Scammers are after your carbon tax refund


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Having been promised it for more than a year, we're all waiting to get our hands on the $550 refund on our power bills now that the carbon tax has been repealed.

Energy retailers are posting letters to their customers promising that refunds of an unspecified amount will begin to flow from the last quarter of this year.

The amount to be refunded tends to be quoted as a percentage of the bill. This makes it difficult to calculate a dollar figure because power prices - and bills - keep climbing; it is like dealing with shifting sands.

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With carbon tax refunds in the news so often, scammers have jumped on their phones to try their luck.

Because the process of refunding carbon tax charged on our energy and other bills is confusing and so slow, with no details on exactly how the compensation promises will be monitored or enforced, it's easy to con consumers into thinking the scammer on the end of the phone is there to help.

In fact, what all these con merchants are doing is using the carbon tax to harvest your personal information. They usually have some details to get your attention, such as your name and maybe your address from a phone book or other lists they work from.

Using these, they push you for more information, such as your energy account number and your energy usage.

They don't really want this information; they request it merely to make you think they are really working on getting some money back for you when in fact all they want is your bank account details for the mythical refund they say they can obtain from the government now. (In fact, it won't be from the government; it is supposed to come from your energy supplier.) If you fall into the trap of providing your bank details, expect to see your account cleaned out.

A different energy scam also doing the rounds is an email pretending to be sent from a reputable energy company claiming you owe money for an outstanding gas or electricity bill.

The email will ask you to click on a link or update your account details and arrange payment via money transfer. Click on the link and you risk infecting your computer with malware and having your personal information stolen. This approach may also come through a phone call or an SMS.

According to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), the email may claim to be from an official sounding part of the organisation, such as "accounts receivable", "accounts payable", "receivables department" or the "accounts receivable team".

The email attachment may feature legitimate-looking trademarks, company logos (these are easy to lift off the internet), a fake account number, an account summary, a billing period and a due date of payment.

Unless you keep copies of your power bill in a file or in your head, you may not twig that the numbers and even the dates on the document are fake. In fact, closer inspection may also reveal spelling mistakes and grammatical errors, both indications that something is not right.

The email may claim you have exceeded your energy consumption limit (is there one?), that your power may be cut off or that you will get a discount if you click on the link and pay promptly. There may be an attached "statement" which you will be asked to download. You are then directed to a money transfer service and instructions on how to pay that bill.

If you transfer money, you can be assured you will never see it again and if you click on the link, you risk having your computer infected with malware. Press the delete button on your email.

If you are really concerned about an unpaid bill and the threat of having the power cut off, contact your energy company directly. Never use the contact details sent by the sender. Instead find your energy company from a legitimate bill, a website or the phone book.

Do and don't

NEVER: Click on embedded link no matter how official the email or document looks.

NEVER: Open an attachment when sent an unsolicited email.

DO: Ring your energy supplier to find out exactly when you can expect to spend the carbon tax refund the Abbott government promised and whether it might be in your hands in time for Christmas.

DO: Let the ACCC know if you think you are being targeted by scammers by calling SCAMwatch on 1300 795 995.

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