Super scams on the rise during COVID-19, says ACCC

After noting a significant number of scam reports related to COVID-19, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has now issued a warning specifically related to fraudulent claims around early superannuation access.

Since the government announced Coronavirus-related early superannuation access measures in March, the ACCC has seen 87 reports of scammers trying to obtain personal information or receive payment of non-existent fees for early super fund release applications. 

According to ACCC Deputy Chair Delia Rickard, consumers are being targeted with cold calls claiming to provide early access to these funds and eligibility checks, or suggesting the new scheme will lock people out of their personal accounts.

“The Australian Taxation Office is coordinating the early release of super through myGov and there is no need to involve a third party or pay a fee to get access under this scheme,” Rickard said.

She implores consumers not to follow any hyperlinks to the myGov website to avoid being redirected to a fraudulent site. 

“Instead, you should always type the full name of the website into your browser yourself,” Rickard said. “Never give any information about your superannuation to someone who has contacted you. Be wary of callers who claim to be from a government authority asking about your super. Hang up and call the organisation directly by doing an independent search for their contact details.”

While no losses have been reported in relation to these specific types of scams, the ACCC recorded Australians losing more than $6 million to superannuation scams in 2019.

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Unlawful advice for early super withdrawals to cover rent

While superannuation scams most commonly affect older people, uncertainty around financial protections for renters during the Coronavirus shutdowns might see this issue spread to more diverse age groups.

The Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) has released a letter directed to rental agencies and landlords stating they should not be advising renters to apply for the early-access super scheme. In the letter, ASIC’s Executive Director of Financial Service Enforcement, Tim Mullaly says such advice could be unlawful – and a finable offence – under the Corporations Act. 

“Financial advice must only be provided by qualified and licensed financial advisers, or financial counsellors, not by real estate agents who neither hold the requisite licence, nor are an authorised representative of an Australian Financial Services Licensee,” Mullaly said . 

“Tenants facing financial difficulty need sound financial guidance and potentially debt counselling. Specifically pointing them to and recommending them to consider the specific possibility of accessing superannuation is, again, likely to amount to a breach of the Act.”

ASIC is monitoring the situation to protect vulnerable consumers who may also be at risk of being influenced by super fund scammers. 

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