5 Phone safety tips to avoid scams

Smartphones don’t come cheap! These days, even the most basic of models will set you back at least a few hundred dollars. Naturally, you want to keep your phone safe – you probably have a protective case or screen cover on it, especially if your phone is top-of-the-line. However, your phone also has another kind of value – it stores an absolute hoard of your personal information, ranging from basic details, files and photos all the way up to passwords and financial information!

It’s important to stay savvy about the security risks related to using your smartphone. To help you stay informed so you don’t get caught out, here’s five of the latest trends in digital security that you need to know about.


Read the fine print on any app subscriptions or free trials

If you’ve ever played games on your mobile, you’ve probably encountered “microtransactions”. These are small fees to buy content in an app, such as extra turns in the popular game, Candy Crush. Other apps will charge a recurring subscriptions in return for their content, such as music streaming services like Spotify and Google Music. Other apps may try to take advantage of customers with pricey subscription fees kicking in after free trials – in some cases, you could find a three-day free trial cutting over to an automatic annual subscription in excess of $90!

How to stay safe

  • Always read the fine print before you agree to a free trial. Apps on the Google Play Store or Apple App Store will get reported and removed if they’re not properly describing their fees. These apps are banking on the fact that you’ll agree to the trial without noticing the risk.
  • If you do intend to take advantage of a free trial, make a note of when it ends, and make a reminder for yourself to cancel before the trials ends if you don’t intend to subscribe. If you forget about it, you may get stung.

Fleeceware fine print example


Think twice before you plug into a public charge port

In the age of internet and portable devices, it’s not uncommon to see free recharging stations at cafés, airports, truck stops and other commuter hubs. Most offer USB ports, so you only need your phone’s cable to plug in and start juicing up your phone battery. While you may be in dire need of some charge, be careful – that unknown USB port could have been tampered with and may pose a threat to your phone. Threatpost has reported that the USB connection could upload an exploit known as “Checkm8” to iPhones, exposing them to hacking and other malicious software. No thanks!

How to stay safe

  • If you’re prone to running out of power while on the go, invest in a portable power bank. This will give you your own private stash of power to plug in to when you need it.
  • The risk comes from a direct USB connection to your phone. It’s safe to use a public charge port to recharge a power bank, then use the power bank to recharge your phone.
  • Likewise, some public places such as train stations may have public electrical outlets instead of USB outlets, so you can recharge using your own AC charger.


Stick to licensed cables for your devices

It’s awfully tempting to pick up a generic phone cable or charger for a fraction of the price from stores like eBay, and most of us probably wouldn’t say no to a free cable if we could get one. However, a security researcher known as MG has successfully developed a duplicate of Apple’s Lightning cable, dubbed the O.MG Cable. It looks and acts exactly like a Lightning cable, except it contains tiny, extra components that allow a hacker to remotely connect to the computer that the cable is plugged into. Suddenly, a free cable doesn’t sound so appealing.

How to stay safe

  • Buy your cables from licensed vendors. It’s ultimately far, far cheaper than having compromised financial data. In addition to the security risk of unlicensed cables, they may also be lower quality.
  • If you happen to work in the tech sector or attend conferences, do not accept gifts of (or borrow) chargers, cables or dongles from other people.
  • Are you losing a lot of cables to pets with bad chewing habits? This guide may help.

Lightning cable


Audit your Android apps for dodgy software

The last two tips may have been particularly relevant to iPhone users, but phones running Android software aren’t immune to security risks, either. Throughout 2019, researchers discovered a large number of apps that were infested with adware, a nasty type of software that displays ads and pop-ups. You will recognise adware by its malicious nature. Adware finds its way onto your device through infected websites and installs without authorisation, tracking your activities without your consent or knowledge. You will then have unwanted ads in pop-ups or even un-closable windows.

How to stay safe

  • Check the apps listed in this article and this article to see if there are any you recognise. If you have an app with adware on your device, you need to delete it.
  • The dodgy apps were promptly removed from the Google Play Store, but other, third-party app stores still have them available. Using the Google Play Store isn’t foolproof, but it does give you better protection than other, less reputable stores.
  • Developers commonly install adware on common utility apps such as QR code readers, photo and video editing tools, and simple mobile games. Be sure to shop around and try to stick with reputable developers that have official websites and other apps published – a quick Google search can go a long way.
  • If you’re looking for recommendations, try a reliable source like PC Magazine.


Be wary of scammers impersonating NBN Co or ISPs

As the NBN™ rollout continues, more and more Australians are switching over to the new network. Unfortunately, scammers are taking advantage and impersonating NBN Co staff to leverage money or personal information out of unsuspecting Aussies. According to a recent SCAMWATCH report, the monthly average losses to NBN™ scams nearly tripled in 2019. The scammers commonly pretend to be calling on behalf of NBN Co, trying to collect money for services or equipment, or persuade you to install malicious software to “remotely fix an issue”. These calls may not just come through on your mobile, but also your home phone, too.

How to stay safe

  • Never let a caller convince you to install software on your computer. It could contain a virus, give strangers access to your computer, or collect your personal information and banking details.
  • If you receive a call during an NBN™ outage or power blackout in your area claiming you can stay connected for an extra fee – don’t believe it. It’s too good to be true.
  • Remember that no legitimate service provider will ever require payment in the form of iTunes vouchers or other gift cards.

For more information about NBN™ scams, visit the NBN Co website.

Have you heard about anything new to watch out for? Tell us about it in the comments.

You can also report all scams to SCAMWATCH, a vital information hub run by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC).


Image credits


  1. Sharon Bennetts says:

    Hi Gina, many thanks as it is always great to get reminders re security…..especially the USB port one!!

    Cheers Sharon

  2. Ray Goulter says:

    G’day Gina,
    Great tip regarding generic cables! It’s obvious that, in today’s advanced electronics world, building malicious code into cables wouldn’t be all that difficult.
    re: NBN. I’ve had numerous contacts from people reportedly being from NBN, telling me I’m about to be disconnected. They’re easily recognised as scams so I play with them for a while letting them think I’v been hooked, then tell them where to get off. The time I spend playing with them prevents others being contacted. One bloke I’d strung along for nearly 1/2 an hour ended up screaming abuse at me when he realised I’d cottoned on at the very start. I felt really good about getting him to the point of cursing me! :-))

  3. Adrian Prophet says:

    Great article on phone safety tips.
    Thank you for publishing it.

  4. Kaye Rollings says:

    I had a call yesterday from this number [08]62713248 from a caller ‘Steve’ saying he was phoning about my accident. I have not had an accident. I said ‘Get real Steve’ and hung up. If I had had an accident of any sort I may have been hooked. These people are dangerous.

  5. Rob Roach says:

    Good for you, Gina. It has been said that a tidy desk is a sign of a sick mind!…
    Thanks for the “Heads Up” re phone security. I carry my power bank everywhere i go…Enjoy your coffee.

  6. Buy a power-only cable (data pins not wired up) for use at public USB sockets, and LABEL it to avoid mistakes.

  7. Kathleen Reeves says:

    Thanks for the update. Always handy

  8. Bev Walker says:

    Thanks for the info. Always great to have hints n tips.

  9. Peter Lamb says:

    The car insurance scams can easily be detected.

    Just ask for the registration numbers of the vehicles involved 😉 Suddenly it all becomes a terribly complicated issue of them not having even the most basic information about any accident that may or may not have happened.

  10. Dave Baker says:

    Just remember. No such thing as a free lunch. Common sense SHOULD give you that, “not a chance, in hell” sensation. If it doesn’t, then common sense, ain’t so common. My nan said that, and it’s always stuck with me.

  11. Peter says:

    “not properly disclaiming their fees.” Disclaiming? I think you meant disclosing.

  12. ian m Stratford says:

    Good one…wish I could forward it to my family.

  13. Brian says:

    Ii am getting repeated calls on my landline where a recorded voice says it is my ” internet service provider” calling, then advising the internet will be cut off in several hours, and then saying dial 1 to speak to a technician to address the issue. I have not dialled 1. I have called back to the number showing on my own telephone screen and get a message that the number has been disconnected

  14. TimO says:

    I had someone persistently call me saying they were with NBN Aust. saying they were monitoring my connection and it was apparently running slow. No idea what they were offering or proposing to do, but if the connection was slow, surely wouldn’t I discuss that with iiNet directly? There were just a few comments from the caller that were suspicious, so asked the caller not to phone my number again, leading the guy to become aggravated / angry with me. I can only presume it was a scam?

  15. Peter Burton says:

    I had a pop up today on my phone from iiNet saying to do a survey and get an iPhone. I didn’t click any link and I didn’t do it, it seemed suss, was it you guys?

    • Tal Waterhouse says:

      Not us, Peter. That’s a scam that uses the visible IP address of your connection to determine who your service provider is and then pretends to be them. Thanks for staying smart online! – Tal

  16. wayne moule says:

    Thankyou so much for the info everyone it’s so good to part of such a great team of people thankyou iinet .

  17. Hi says:

    How do u protect passwords stored on your phone
    So if u loose your phone they cannot. Be hacked
    Used. By the people who find it when they try to extract data

    • Tal Waterhouse says:

      Good question, it may be worth considering use of a password storage tool such as a locker or vault which stores the password externally to any device and removes any saved details from active profile on your phone. Make sure of the security and veracity of these by consulting any active reviews and ratings on app stores. – Tal

  18. Helen says:

    The first thing that should alert us is that our service providers never call us. The second thing is that when you hang up, try and call the incoming number. You will find it’s ‘not in service’. I don’t know what agency it is that provides this phone message, but to me it means criminals can get phone numbers other than through the legitimate systems for telephonic communication in this country. They are probably foreign.

  19. MM says:

    The NBN calls have been coming through my VOIP line since I hooked up. Come in batches….Same as “Brian’s” message above.
    Good tip re the cable..Thank you.
    Has TPG got an offer on?? Getting messages on my iphone I have won something. First ever spam on ipone.

    • Tal Waterhouse says:

      There won’t be any such competitions delivered that way to you, MM. What you’re seeing is an advert delivered to you using the IP address of your connection to appear legitimate when it is a scam. – Tal

  20. Roz Sasse says:

    I always ask the so called NBN caller ” who is my provider I don’t remember” this always stumps them and they don’t know my name usually so I tell them what I think of them and hang up.

  21. Jim says:

    I’ve just signed up to receive the NBN as it’s about to be rolled out in my suburb.
    iiNet will get a call from me to make sure I did sign up to the correct carrier of my choice and not scammed..

  22. Laline Ford says:

    I just received a call from “Amazon” Duh! telling me my subscription had been extended by them for another 30 days and fee taken, when I said this was all false they offered to get my dollars back if I allowed them to go into App Store with them shadowing this point I hung up.

  23. Anthony Ehrenreich says:

    Still getting iiNet billing dept having trouble with payment not going thru. It’s on iiNet letterhead all neat and tidy but contact is Huston Texas. Straight into SPAM bin.

  24. Cheri Greenlaw says:

    I rang IInet the other day for help when my emails would go . the person I spoke to sad he tried to help but when he couldnt gave my a number to ring Microsoft for help . After speaking to the person from Supposedly Microsoft ,when he asked for money to add a secure system on my computer because he said I had someone trying to track on my computer ,I then said dont worry i will get my computer chap to look at it . He hung up .I found out later that the number I was given from this man at Iinet was a scam phone number

    • Tal Waterhouse says:

      Hi Cheri,

      Thank you very much for bringing this matter to our attention. In this instance it’s likely a genuine misunderstanding on the staff members part and we have raised this matter on internally so as to assist staff with their efforts in supporting third party applications and in ensuring any information provided is vetted and accurate.

      We also understand that our customer care team have been in touch to help follow on and ensure that any support matters have been resolved. Thanks again for your comment and for all your support of us over the years 🙂

      – Tal

  25. Peter Rye says:

    We changed our phone to a new, unlisted number a year or two ago. Naturally, some work informing all our legitimate callers, but since then, blissful silence!

  26. Dane Sorensen says:

    I love the car insurance scam calls – I treat them as sport.
    My first reply when they ask about my “accident” is “Oh, great to hear from you, which accident are you calling about” and then – if I’ve got time – lead them from one side of Australia to the other, discussing the three accidents I’ve recently had, make up details as I go along – basically lie like a bastard.
    Well, I assume they call me to waste time ………..
    I HATE them – I also get false emails from “iinet” with bogus email addresses – these I always forward to iinet for you lot to work your magic.
    I’ve been with the company for over twenty years, I could get a cheaper isp but – well, you’re IINET (-:

  27. Margaret Mitchell says:

    Thanks for the good advice and heads up, iinet ate all stars .

  28. norm says:

    I get phone calls every morning and evening when i try to connect it stops ringing, but there is no number or details associated with the call so I cannot ring them back . what can i do.

  29. Rob Thomas. says:

    What puzzles me about the many landline scam calls we get about the NBN, Telstra, etc. is that I can recover the phone number used for the scam but no-one appears to be able to shut down these numbers. NBN claim they are accessed by the scammers from the Internet. If I can identify the phone number, why can’t the experts.

  30. Lorna Smith says:

    Yes I have had several phone calls from a guy saying it’s Telstra press this & that I tell them to you know what & hang up as I know it’s a scam I am not with Telstra Lornaa

  31. Rosemary Miller says:

    Had a message from Westnet on my phone saying they were unable to pay my account and to change my details.Seemed a little dodgy to me so sent photo of message to iiNet, They did not send it so it was deleted.

  32. Anonymous says:

    I recently received a call on my landline saying ‘I believe you have been receiving several unwanted calls lately and Scamnet can help you.’ I asked his name to which he replied ‘Kevin’ and when I asked for his full name he said ‘Kevin Smith’. ‘Oh really, you expect me to believe this!’ I immediately hung up.
    A short time later I received a phone call from a female which I let go to my answering machine.

  33. Eleanor says:

    Thanks for sharing these tips. It seems there is an epidemic of scam/spam going on.

  34. Andy says:

    I have had many scam calls on my landline in much the same vein as ‘Brian’, telling me that they are from Telstra and that my connection will be cut off within the hour if I do not dial 1 immediately and speak to the technician. The voice always has an Indian accent and the caller usually gives their name as something Australian like Bruce. The calls are fairly easy to detect and the only thing you need to do is NOT dial 1, just keep them talking for as long as possible. I try to explain to them that they need to walk into their boss’s office and quit immediately, then get a job where their children can be proud of their father even if it is only cleaning toilets, at least it is honest work.

  35. Robyn Sheehan says:

    When the Robotic “Nicole” rings and tells me to press 1 blah blah I immediately hit the hash key on my l/line and it scrambles the scammers lines and then I receive a human voice starting to give his/her spiel. I cut in and tell them that their call is being monitored by the AFP and hang up. Don’t hear from them then for about 3 weeks or longer until they try again

  36. Cheryl Gleave says:

    I also have had an issue similar to Cheri Greenslaw. I was given a phone number to contact Microsoft. Well, I haven’t had time yet, holiday season etc, so what is the correct number for contacting Microsoft? I was given 132058. Is this the real number or the scam number.?

  37. Kevin Rigg says:

    I occasionally get an email purported to be from IINET saying there is a problem with my latest payment. It asks me to follow the link and update my payment details! As if
    The email looks legit with your logo and all. Luckily I’m such a sceptic.

  38. Lew M says:

    I had a new one today. An American female calling for Amazon Prime saying that I owed $3999.oo dollars, (usual) press Button 1 etc. Don’t press Button 1 EVER and hang up.

  39. Robert Fox says:

    Hi Gina
    We are continually getting emails that I have won are prize. These vary from sometimes being Woollies, sometimes Coles or Bunnings. While I just delete these without opening, it does worry me that these so-called prize messages appear to reflect my shopping habits.

  40. Robert says:

    Hi! Gina,
    Thanks for the Tips. I no Longer answer calls from unidentified & Hidden Numbers and block them as Scams if they don’t leave a message.
    Most times they never do. I do sometimes get SMS message with some links (I never click on) from hidden numbers or partial numbers and I cannot reply or Block these – any ideas on How to Block ? I am using iPhone 6S and when Using the headphone cable It keeps pping up with “Voice Control” even though I have done everything to Turn this feature as well as Siri OFF. – Any ideas ?

  41. I have had many calls on my NBN connected phone from “Telstra” telling me my computer is faulty
    and causing all sorts of problems with the Telstra internet system Australia wide. I listen to their speil, then repeatedly hit the # key and hang up. I then get approximately 2 weeks free of these calls then they start again. Looks as if there is really nothing one can do about them. Also, I get calls where there is someone there when I answer, but they don’t speak, and hang up after about a minute. What the?????

  42. Indigo51 says:

    You have used a word incorrectly. Do you not mean ‘proclaiming’ or ‘explaining’!:
    “reported and removed if they’re not properly disclaiming their fees

  43. Joyce Mynett says:

    Some very useful info there. With the scam calls I just tell them to get a proper job and hang up. Occasionally I will get several more calls from the same no., just let it go to message bank and hear the beeps.