Here in Australia, Origin Energy [one of the big utilities companies] recently introduced gas and electricity accounts sent via email. Good idea? Not so, and here’s a picture of why:
The screenshot above is a picture of my new, email electricity bill. Notice all the red? Each one of those circles denotes a link to some address on the internet. Click on that link and you are automatically taken to that address.
So what’s wrong with that, you ask? We all use the internet a million times a day.
What’s wrong is that each link is a potential opening for scammers to steal your information, especially that big, orange ‘Pay now’ button. You see, these days, the really good scammers can reproduce the Origin Energy logo, its fonts, the colours, even the text…PERFECTLY. If you were to receive one of these reproductions, you would need to look very, very carefully to pick the fake from the original. And let’s face it, how many of us scrutinise each email we receive, especially when we are expecting to receive it?
Expectation lowers our defences.
I already expect to receive a mobile phone account [via email], and now I will also expect to receive gas and electricity bills, via email. I may scrutinise the first five, ten, 25 emails but after that? I’ll get complacent.
One day, I’ll be in a hurry and I’ll forget to check all the tell tale signs of a forgery. I’ll click on that big orange ‘Pay now‘ button in the email, and it’ll take me…somewhere. That somewhere will look like the real deal as well so, still in a hurry, I’ll enter my banking details, pay the ‘bill’ and get on with my life. But one day in the not too distant future I’ll realise my bank account has been hacked. And in that moment of disbelief and horror, I’ll remember the day convenience, and a busy life style, made me follow a link in an email.
And what do you think the big corporations are going to do about the theft of all my money? Will they pull their hair out by the roots and cry ‘mea culpa, mea culpa’? Not on your life. They’ll say that the fault was all mine. They’ll say that they warn customers about ‘scammers’ so it’s a case of ‘buyer beware’.
But the truth is that the big corporations will NOT warn you about this particular type of scam because they do not want to put you off their new, much-cheaper-to-run email billing service. Origin intends to charge $2 for each paper bill from now on. I’m pretty sure the real cost of sending out a paper bill is nowhere near that much, so they won’t be saving $2 for every bill to every customer, but they will be saving something. Multiply ‘something’ by hundreds of thousands of customers and the bottom line starts to look a whole lot better.
So what’s the solution?
The solution is to print the bills off and pay them as you would a paper bill – by going directly to your internet banking and using BPay to pay the bills from there.
As a caveat, I have to say that I can’t guarantee that internet banking is 100% safe. I believe it is, but I can’t guarantee it. However…if the banks mess up with your money, they have to pay you back. If you mess up with your money, that’s it, it’s gone. You might try a class action suit against the corporation in question, perhaps citing negligence, but going through the courts could take years and may still not succeed.
Why not? Because no one held a gun to your head and made you click that ‘Pay now’ button.
This is the reason I keep bleating on about not clicking on links in emails. That little bit of extra convenience is just not worth it. And yes, it could happen to you.
Take care and stay safe,