Coles and Woolworths gift card scams resurface: Why Christmas is prime-time for scammers

Coles and Woolworths gift card scams resurface: Why Christmas is prime-time for scammers

EMMA KOEHN / Tuesday, November 14, 2017


The end-of-year rush is prime time for shoppers to fall for the promise of free things, says one behavioural economics expert who warns Australians to protect themselves in the face of a number of supermarket gift card scams doing the rounds in the weeks before Christmas.

Over the weekend, shoppers once again took to the social media accounts of Coles and Woolworths, asking for clarification after receiving text messages and emails appearing to congratulate them for winning a gift card.

One text message claiming to be from Coles told shoppers they had won $1000 as part of “our customer of the month” program, while Woolworths’ customers were told they had won $2000 through the same scheme. Links to external websites were then provided, with scammers asking customers to fill in details to claim the prize.

Both supermarkets responded swiftly to customers on Facebook, with Woolworths saying the offers were “definitely” a scam.

This is not the first time the brands have been impersonated through text messages. In August, a wave of similar scams were doing the rounds, with the retailers telling SmartCompany they have dedicated customer warning pages to track current threats.

But just six weeks out from Christmas, this time around many customers are saying that even though they knew the texts were likely scams, they were tempted to check with the retailers just in case the prize was genuine.

Woolworths confirmed to SmartCompany this morning it has no affiliation with any of the texts offering vouchers, and has taken steps to warn customers at the checkout not to respond to any unsolicited messages online, including warning shoppers not to buy iTunes vouchers in large numbers.

A number of other scams in recent months have called on shoppers to buy iTunes cards, with scammers telling them these would be used to pay for products like NBN services.

“Woolworths has introduced a number of measures in-store to alert our customers to these scams including placing customer warning notices where iTunes vouchers are displayed, at customer service desks and in the self check out areas,” a spokesperson says.

“We encourage our customers to contact the local authorities should they believe they are engaged in this or any other scam,” Woolworths says.

SmartCompany contacted Coles but did not receive comments prior to publication.

According to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s Scamwatch tracker, Australians have lost more than $1.2 million dollars this year through unexpected gift and prize scams. Behavioural economics expert Bri Williams tells SmartCompany it’s easy to see why these offers pop up in large numbers towards the end of the year.

“The end of the year is a really precarious time for shoppers — they’re exhausted, and they are feeling pressured to make quick decisions,” she says.

Shoppers are likely to be tempted into checking out gift card offers if they come from a brand they regularly interact with, and at this point scammers can impersonate familiar brands with incredible accuracy, Williams says.

“The risk that emerges when these come from seemingly reputable sources is that we’ve already trusted them,” she says.

Make genuine prizes and customer offers clear

The proliferation of prize scams at the end of the year also presents a challenge for retailers and other loyalty programs that may be looking to genuinely give back to customers, because shoppers might be suspicious of free offers.

Williams says this makes it important for brands to create trust by branding offers carefully and making sure communications include information about the customer that only the genuine retailer would know.

“Make the customer confident that you are who you say you are, by including something like their company number,” she says.

“And it really doesn’t hurt to explain exactly why they are getting a reward — if it was a prize draw, explain to shoppers how it worked.”

Original article sourced HERE at

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Victorian courts should expand their supervision of family violence offenders

Victorian courts should expand their supervision of family violence offenders


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Victoria’s Sentencing Advisory Council has recommended increasing the judicial monitoring of family violence offenders.
AAP/Darren England


Paul McGorrery, Deakin University and Arie Freiberg, Monash University

Victoria’s Sentencing Advisory Council has recommended the state not introduce a “swift, certain and fair” approach to sentencing and managing family violence offenders.

A swift, certain and fair approach is a specific type of criminal justice program developed in the US. It usually targets offenders who are serving their sentence in the community, and requires criminal justice agencies to respond quickly to any non-compliance with fixed sanctions. This is usually a couple of days in custody.

These approaches have been received and adopted in some jurisdictions with great enthusiasm. However, that enthusiasm may not be backed by evidence.

What did the council find?

Victoria’s Royal Commission into Family Violence recommended that the Sentencing Advisory Council report on the desirability of swift, certain and fair approaches to sentencing and managing family violence offenders. The council found overwhelming opposition to the idea, for several reasons.

First, the evidence in relation to the effectiveness of such programs is uncertain. There is both positive and negative evidence about whether they can work well with offenders who have substance abuse issues. And there is no direct evidence that they are effective for family violence offenders.

In addition to these programs being untested for family violence offenders, they are also untested in Australia. There is currently a similar program being piloted in the Northern Territory. However, that program has more of a rehabilitative focus: participants are required to spend three months in a residential rehabilitation facility before starting on the program.

The second reason the council has recommended against a swift, certain and fair approach is that there is a risk it could increase, rather than decrease, the risk to victim-survivors of family violence.

In particular, there is a risk that a family violence offender could blame the victim if they had to spend a few days in custody, especially if it was the victim who had brought the breaching behaviour to the attention of criminal justice officials.

Third, both Victoria Police and Corrections Victoria have emphasised that in the current system there would be little-to-no capacity to hold family violence offenders in custody for short stints.

Fourth, swift, certain and fair approaches in general were considered incompatible with the right to procedural fairness.

In programs elsewhere, offenders serve their time in custody before the breach hearing is brought before a judge (to ensure the response is swift). But defendants in Victoria have a right to prepare a defence before being placed in custody. A swift, certain and fair approach would not give them that opportunity.

Finally, the council was concerned about the possibility that a swift, certain and fair approach would have a disproportionate effect on disadvantaged groups in society.

In particular, there was a risk it could negatively affect:

  • low-risk offenders, by interfering with positive factors such as their employment and education;
  • Indigenous offenders, for whom short periods of custody may pose a more acute risk;
  • female offenders, who are more likely to have primary carer responsibilities; and
  • offenders with cognitive disabilities, who may have difficulties understanding and meeting the demands of certain conditions.

Alternative recommendations

The Sentencing Advisory Council made several alternative recommendations that would better achieve the broader principles of swiftness, certainty and fairness.

First, in 2015, the Magistrates’ Court of Victoria started fast-tracking criminal proceedings against family violence offenders, so that their case would be heard within a few months. Generally, this fast-tracking does not extend to family violence offenders who breached the conditions of their community correction orders.

Noting that the Dandenong Magistrates’ Court is already trialling the fast-tracking of breach offences of such orders, the council has recommended these breach offences be fast-tracked alongside other family violence offences.

Second, although traditionally the judge or magistrate’s role ends after the sentencing hearing, there is growing evidence that the judiciary might be an untapped resource in managing family violence offenders in the community.

Research suggests that if the sentencing magistrate stays involved in the management of that offender in the community, offenders are more likely to comply with the conditions of their sentence and less likely to reoffend.

This supervision not only makes the offender feel accountable because the eyes of the court are on them, but also that they are being treated fairly because they are seeing the same magistrate or judge each time. Offenders who feel like they are being treated fairly are, in turn, more likely to comply with the conditions placed on them.

The council has therefore recommended increasing the judicial monitoring of family violence offenders.

As part of that recommendation, the Council has suggested that corrections officers should be able to send an offender to a judicial monitoring hearing if they think there is an increase in the risk of family violence.

For example, an offender’s risk level might have increased if divorce or custody proceedings have started, or if the corrections officer has received concerning information about the offender from a men’s behaviour change program.

Finally, the council has recommended that the increased use of judicial monitoring should be supported by sufficient resources, training, and evaluation.

The ConversationThe National Sexual Assault, Family & Domestic Violence Counselling Line – 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) – is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week for any Australian who has experienced, or is at risk of, family and domestic violence and/or sexual assault.

Paul McGorrery, PhD Candidate in Criminal Law, Deakin University and Arie Freiberg, Emeritus Professor of Law, Monash University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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The difference between cybersecurity and cybercrime, and why it matters

The difference between cybersecurity and cybercrime, and why it matters


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Confidence scams carried out online are still rampant.
R. Stevens/CREST Research, CC BY-NC-SA


Roderick S. Graham, Old Dominion University

A Texas woman in her 50s, let’s call her “Amy,” met a man online calling himself “Charlie.” Amy, who lived in Texas, was in a bad marriage. Charlie said he was a businessman and a Christian, and wooed her. “He was saying all the right things,” Amy later told the FBI. “He was interested in me. He was interested in getting to know me better. He was very positive, and I felt like there was a real connection there.” Early on, Charlie told her he was having some problems with his business and needed money. She wanted to help.

From 2014 to 2016, she sent him US$2 million – often in installments of a few thousand dollars at a time, always hoping and expecting to get paid back. After she alerted the FBI, two Nigerian citizens were arrested near Houston – both pleaded guilty to wire fraud charges in connection with Amy’s relationship with Charlie. The person who played the character of Charlie has not been identified.

This story is a cautionary example of a crime that happens online. But most advice for avoiding online dangers – like having long passwords, using two-factor authentication and encrypting data – wouldn’t have helped Amy.

The crime that befell her has nothing to do with cybersecurity. It’s cybercrime, a human-centered crime committed in a digital environment. There are more of these each year: In the U.S. in 2016, 298,728 complainants reported losing more than $1.3 billion in various types of cybercrimes, including romance scams but also involving fraudulent online sales, extortion, violent harassment and impersonation scams, among others. As a social scientist who studies online behavior and as the program coordinator for one of the few cybercrime undergraduate programs in the United States, I find it unfortunate that problems like Amy’s get relatively little national attention, especially compared to cybersecurity.

Understanding the differences

Cybersecurity is not merely a set of guidelines and actions intended to prevent cybercrime. The two types of problems differ substantially in terms of what happens and who the victims are, as well as the academic areas that study them.

Cybersecurity is ultimately about protecting government and corporate networks, seeking to make it difficult for hackers to find and exploit vulnerabilities. Cybercrime, on the other hand, tends to focus more on protecting individuals and families as they navigate online life.

The U.S. has created several initiatives to improve its cybersecurity, including investments in cybersecurity education and expanding efforts of government agencies.

Unfortunately, upgrading official networks and training future generations of cybersecurity professionals will not necessarily benefit people like Amy. Technical solutions won’t solve her problems. Social science research into human behavior online is how to help millions like her learn to protect themselves.

Little research

One of the few studies on romance scams like the one that ensnared Amy suggests that there are three stages to these types of cons. It starts with the criminal engaging in intense online communications with the victim. In Amy’s case, Charlie undoubtedly contacted her repeatedly as their relationship began. That built her trust and lowered her defenses – and commanded much of the time and energy she had for social interaction.

Once the victim is isolated from other interpersonal social experiences, the illusion of connection and interdependence can deepen. Charlie no doubt kept this illusion alive any way he could, taking as much of Amy’s money as he could. In the third and final stage, the target finally sees through the veil and learns that it’s all been a scam. That’s when Amy, urged by her financial advisor, suspected fraud and called the FBI.

The ConversationMore research on cybercrime could help deepen scholars’ and investigators’ understandings of how these social science problems play out online. To my knowledge there are just four cybercrime programs at residential four-year colleges. With more effort and investment, academics and law enforcement could learn more and work better together to identify and protect the real people who are at risk from these online criminals.

Roderick S. Graham, Assistant Professor of Sociology, Old Dominion University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Fingerprinting to solve crimes: not as robust as you think

Fingerprinting to solve crimes: not as robust as you think


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There’s a margin of error in relying on fingerprinting to catch criminals.


Jamie Walvisch, Monash University

Police have used fingerprint evidence to catch and convict criminals for more than 100 years. It’s a commonly used technique in Australia: more than 10,000 fingerprint matches were made in Victoria alone last year.

But in a recent report, the American Association for the Advancement of Science has questioned the scientific validity of fingerprint analysis.

The report is a reminder that although fingerprinting is an essential tool for investigating crime, it’s not infallible. We need to minimise the inappropriate application of the “science” of fingerprinting, and reduce repeats of miscarriages of justice linked to fingerprint analysis that have already occurred.

Read more: Forensic evidence largely not supported by sound science – now what?

Most notoriously, Brandon Mayfield, an American lawyer, was wrongly linked by four fingerprint experts to the 2004 Madrid train bombing. He was arrested and detained for two weeks, before investigators realised that an Algerian man, Ouhnane Daoud, was the real source of the print.

How does fingerprint examination work?

Everybody’s fingers, palms and soles have “friction ridges” on them. These ridges occur in patterns (such as arches and loops) that contain specific features (for example, ridge endings and dots).

Fingerprint examiners use these patterns and features to compare an unknown (or “latent”) print with a known print, to determine if they may have come from the same person.

In Australia, police use the National Automated Fingerprint Identification System – a database with more than 2.6 million sets of fingerprints – to narrow down the field of fingerprints to compare. But the final decision about whether there is a “match” is made by a person.

A 2010 report, published by the US National Institute of Justice, concluded that automated systems were significantly less accurate than well-trained examiners at making comparisons between latent and known prints.

Problems with the underlying science

Until the mid-2000s, little scientific research had been done on most forensic disciplines, including fingerprinting. This lack of research became widely publicised in 2009, when the US National Research Council published a landmark report on the forensic sciences.

It found that the only forensic method that had been rigorously validated was nuclear DNA analysis. All other forensic sciences – including fingerprinting – lacked a proper scientific foundation.

Read more: From the crime scene to the courtroom: the journey of a DNA sample

When examining this issue again in 2016, the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) in the US found that only two properly designed studies of latent fingerprint analysis had been conducted. These both found the rate of false matches (known as “false positives”) to be very high: 1 in 18 and 1 in 30.

One of the main reasons for these high error rates is that fingerprint analysis involves human judgement, and relies on a methodology (known as “ACE-V”) that is not sufficient to ensure the accuracy and reliability of an examiner’s conclusions. This means there is no guarantee that two different examiners who follow its steps will reach the same result.

Recent improvements

Since the National Research Council report was released, scientists have worked hard to prove that fingerprint examination is scientific.

Research has now convincingly established that the ridge patterns on fingers vary greatly among individuals, and that there is little variation in a person’s fingerprints over time. This provides a scientific basis for using fingerprints to distinguish individuals, even identical twins.

But there is still no scientific basis for concluding that a print must have been left by a specific person, or even for estimating the number of people who might be the source of a print.

The most that can be said is that two prints have many corresponding features, with no differences that would indicate they were made by different fingers. It may also be possible for an examiner to say that the set of features found in the prints is unusual.

Cognitive bias

Because fingerprint analysis depends heavily on human judgement, an examiner’s conclusions may be improperly influenced by non-scientific factors, such as irrelevant contextual information.

Read more: Explainer: how law enforcement decodes your photos

This phenomenon, which is known as “cognitive bias”, has been demonstrated in various studies.

In one study, five fingerprint experts were told they were comparing Brandon Mayfield’s fingerprint with the fingerprint found in Madrid. They were asked whether they would also have (wrongly) found a match.

In reality, the experts were given fingerprints from a different case they had personally found to match years earlier, in the normal course of their casework. Four of the five experts changed their opinion. This was seen to be due to their expectation that the fingerprints did not match.

Another study found that fingerprint examiners can be improperly influenced by the use of automated fingerprint identification systems, which provide ordered lists of the most likely matches.

The study found that examiners are more likely to wrongly identify one of the prints near the top of the list as a match, and to fail to make correct identifications if the print is down low on the list.


While these reports and studies indicate a need for caution when relying on fingerprint examinations, they do not mean that police should stop using fingerprints.

Fingerprinting is an essential tool for investigating crime, and should continue to be used for this purpose. But steps need to be taken to limit the likelihood of future miscarriages of justice.

Everyone in the system has a role to play. Scientists need to conduct further research under realistic conditions.

Police forces must take steps to minimise the risks of cognitive bias. For example, they should use context management procedures to avoid exposing examiners to unnecessary contextual information.

Lawyers and judges must make sure that only scientifically valid opinions are given in court, and that the value of fingerprint evidence is not overstated. Fingerprint examiners should make it clear that they are expressing an opinion and not a fact.

The ConversationAnd everyone should acknowledge that errors do occur in fingerprinting analysis, and have happened in the past.

Jamie Walvisch, Lecturer, Monash University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Parents of teenage daughters more likely to divorce: study

Parents of teenage daughters more likely to divorce: study


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Seems harmless?
Image sourced from


Jan Kabatek, University of Melbourne and David C. Ribar, University of Melbourne

Sullen exchanges and broken curfews are part of life for parents of teenagers, but could this period also be a stress-test for parents’ marriages?

Our new data analysis finds parents with daughters are slightly more likely to separate than those with sons, but only during the teenage years. And it’s the strained relationship between parents and their daughters that might bring a couple to the breaking point.

Our working paper studied more than 2 million marriages in The Netherlands over ten years and shows that divorce risks increase with children’s ages until they reach adulthood – with parents of teenage daughters at greater risk. However, this risk disappears in cases where the fathers themselves grew up with a sister.

Evidence on daughters and divorce

Previous research examined the link between marital strains and children’s gender, but it’s always been a challenging area.

Several studies in the US have found that parents with first-born girls are slightly more likely to divorce than parents with first-born boys. However, other US studies have challenged this finding, and until now, there was no evidence from other developed countries showing that daughters strained marriages.

Our research examined registry data from The Netherlands. Compared with datasets used in most previous studies, Dutch records are very comprehensive. They allow us to look at exact dates of weddings, births, and divorces, and delve deeper than previous studies, which relied on self-reports and people’s recollections.

More importantly, the data allow us to examine the gender of couples’ children, and just how long after their birth the couples separated.

We found that up until the age of 12, there are no differences between the divorce risks faced by parents of boys and girls. However, between the ages 13 and 18, parents of first-born girls divorce more than parents of first-born boys.

The odds of divorce within this period are 10.7% for parents of boys, and 11.3% for parents of girls. In relative terms, this means that parents with teenage daughters face 5% higher risks of divorce than parents with teenage sons.

The effect peaks at age 15, when the risk faced by parents with daughters is almost 10% higher than the risk faced by parents with sons. In the following years, the differences narrow again, and they disappear once the child turns 19. A similar pattern is also found among second-born and subsequent children.

Although no causal link could be established from the Dutch data, the higher divorce rates might be explained by strained relationships between young women and their parents.

The increased odds of divorce from teenage daughters aren’t unique to Dutch married couples – we find the same association for Dutch couples in de facto relationships, and for married couples in the US. In fact, we find that both of these groups face considerably higher increases of divorce odds from teenage daughters, compared to Dutch married couples.

Attitudes to gender

Social scientists suggest there are several reasons why daughters might raise divorce risks. One well-established theory says that some parents have cultural or social preferences for sons.

Another theory assumes that boys are more vulnerable and their need of a male role model makes fathers more committed to the marriage. There is also a sex-selection theory which postulates that mothers whose marriages are more stressful may be more likely to give birth to a baby girl.

However, we do not find empirical evidence in support of any of these theories.

Instead, our findings suggest the higher divorce rates are explained by strains in the relationships between some parents and their teenage daughters, possibly stemming from differences in attitudes toward gender roles.

This explanation is backed by the separate analysis of a large survey of Dutch households, which asked families about their relationships and opinions regarding marriage, gender and parenting.

Parents of teenage daughters disagreed more about the way they should raise their children, and expressed more positive attitudes towards divorce. They were also less satisfied with the quality of their family relationships.

Teenage daughters, in turn, reported worse relationships with their fathers, though not with their mothers.

Growing up with a sister

We took our research a step further – we looked at the father’s family history to investigate the link between fathers and their daughters. Specifically, we compared the divorce risks faced by fathers who grew up with sisters, and fathers who did not.

Our hypothesis is that the fathers who had more experience relating to teenage girls (via their sisters) would experience fewer relationship strains with their teenage daughters. This could occur because fathers with sisters may hold more egalitarian attitudes toward gender roles, or because they have a better understanding of teenage girls and their family interactions.

And in line with this reasoning, we found that the fathers who grew up with sisters did not face any increase in divorce risks from teenage daughters – the pattern only appeared among fathers who grew up without sisters.

We also looked at other family characteristics that could indicate differences between the gender-role attitudes held by parents and their daughters, such as the ages or immigration background of the couple. Here, we found that the parents who are likely to hold more traditional attitudes toward gender roles experienced higher increases of divorce odds from teenage daughters.

Destined for divorce?

Despite their relative significance during the teenage years, the difference in the divorce risks faced by families with boys and girls remains modest over the child’s lifetime.

By the time their first-born children reached age 25, 311 out of every 1,000 Dutch couples with daughters had divorced compared to 307 of every 1,000 with sons – a difference of only four divorces per 1,000 couples.

And our finding of a null effect among fathers who grew up with sisters also shows that the association between a child’s gender and divorce risk is not universal.

However, our results do point to serious strains between some parents and their teenage daughters, and help us understand the factors contributing to family breakdown.

The results also suggest these risks can be reduced if the parents of teenage daughters adopt more egalitarian attitudes towards gender roles and a greater understanding of how conflicts could come up.

Struggles with teenagers will still happen, but better preparation and knowledge of the wants and needs of their teenage daughters could reduce the strain between partners.

The ConversationThis article was co-published with Pursuit.

Jan Kabatek, Research Fellow, Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research, University of Melbourne and David C. Ribar, Professorial Research Fellow, University of Melbourne

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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