Threats and extortion scams

Threats and extortion scams target your personal details and your money in a brazen way that can include threats to your life or personal property. Traditionally, threats come in two forms either using malware or direct threats to life or threat of arrest. The experience can be extremely frightening and leave the victim traumatised.

Malware is a form of malicious software that can include viruses, ransomware and spyware. Malware scammers send emails or social media messages with malicious links that appear as something interesting to read. Examples include breaking news, events or intriguing stories. If you click on the link it takes you to a fake website that encourages you to download free software. It is this free software that then infects your device. Once infected, the scammer can then access all your passwords and files and track all your activities on the device.

Ransomware, as a distinctive form of malware, is downloaded in a similar fashion as mentioned above. Once this malicious software is installed on your device it can block all your access to your files. It may install passwords on the data or encrypt them completely. The Scammers then contact you via email and explain that there will be a fee to unencrypt your data to allow you access it again. It’s is a very effective method of extortion with many companies simply paying the ransom. However, if you pay the ransom, there is no guarantee your data will be unlocked.

Threats to life and of arrest are some of the most disturbing scams you might experience. One common form of scam is a phone call from an unknown caller. The scammer might say they are from a familiar government agency such as the Australian Taxation Office (ATO). They demand immediate payment of some unknown unpaid bill, threatening immediate arrest. They often target migrants and the elderly, banking on them complying quickly.

The scammers might email fake invoices or fines, and threaten to cancel your service or charge you excessive penalty fees if you don’t pay the bill immediately. Their threats are often successful because they include a deadline which does not allow time for their victims to seek advice from family and friends.

Remember, in Australia it is illegal for a business to threaten people about an unpaid bill. It also doesn’t make any business sense as the consequences if discovered would be severe. Traditionally businesses may call to enquire when an outstanding bill will be paid or to arrange a payment plan.

Some phone calls can be excessively threatening and directly threaten the life of their victim. Money is demanded and all kinds of threats are made. Migrant communities, including Chinese communities where threats are made in Chinese languages, are frequently targeted. Call your local Police immediately to report any threat.

Report malware, ransomware, threats to life and property immediately to the Australian Signals Directorate’s Australian Cyber Security Centre (ACSC).

Report all scams to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s ScamWatch website.

If you have incurred a financial loss, report it  to your local Police. Please also let us know about the scam here at NT Consumer Affairs on 08 8999 1999 or 1800 019 319 or at so we can warn others.

Warning signs

Keep you and your data safe by being highly vigilant for these signs of threats and extortion scams.

  • You receive an email or social media message encouraging you to click on a link that then encourages you to download software in order to view the material.
  • Music files, games, or access to adult sites are offered for free if you download software or agree to a pop-up message box.
  • You notice new icons on your computer screen, or your computer is not as fast as it normally is.
  • You are approached by scammers where your personal or financial details are already known.
  • You receive an unexpected call from someone claiming to be from a government department, debt collection agency or trusted company.
  • The caller asks you to pay a bill by using gift or store cards, iTunes vouchers, wire transfers or Bitcoins.
  • The caller will tell you that in order to resolve the matter you will need to pay a fee or fine.
  • The caller may ask for your personal information.
  • The caller may claim the Police will come to your door and arrest you if you do not pay the fine immediately. Australian Police forces do not give notification of pending arrests to suspects.
  • The caller might directly threaten your life, your family or your property. Always contact the Police immediately. If you pay the threats they will usually continue.

How to protect yourself

Protect yourself from these most serious scams by following these points:

  • Never open attachments or click on links in emails or social media messages from strangers. Do not answer, simply delete.
  • Only use credible news apps and websites for your news.
  • Be highly suspicious of any free downloads and website access. Always remember, nothing is for free.
  • Never go online using any device, including phones, without up-to-date anti-virus and anti-spyware software, and a good firewall. Using your security software, scan your computer regularly.
  • Use complex passwords and change regularly. Back up your data regularly and store your back-ups offsite and offline.
  • Don’t be pressured by a threatening caller. Stop, think and check whether their story is true and if you have any outstanding bills.
  • Remember that no government agency or trusted company will ever ask you to pay by unusual methods such as by gift or store cards, iTunes vouchers, wire transfers or Bitcoin.
  • If you receive a phone call from someone threatening you and asking you to pay a bill or a fee, hang up and do not respond.
  • If the caller gives you their contact details do not use them. Always search online for the legitimate organisation’s listed contact details.
  • Never respond to threatening texts or emails. If you do, the scammers will know your number or email address is active and will escalate their intimidation and attempts to get your money. If you respond, your contact details may be sold on to other scammers.
  • Never send money or give credit card details, online account details or personal information to anyone you don’t know or trust. And NEVER send these details by email or over the phone. Emails and your phone may not be as secure as you imagine.

If you are concerned for your safety or the safety of others, immediately contact the Police.

Last Updated:
18 Dec 2020

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