A surge of increasingly sophisticated "bots and scams" are plaguing social media forums - sparking calls for heightened vigilance from residents.
In recent months some Facebook 'Buy & Sell' groups have become flooded with fake advertisements, profiles, and highly emotive posts - often featuring claims of missing children or injured animals - attempting to spread dangerous links.
"This is an emergency ... this group is no longer operational ... [it] has been attacked by bots and scammers," a user recently posted to one popular Orange NSW trading community.
"Do not click on any link, even if it looks real scammers have become a lot smarter ... my advice is just to leave this group and report straight to Facebook."
On Sunday a fake account put out a plea for help, saying autistic toddler Brayden Johnson and his dog Hank had disappeared in Orange in NSW's Central West.
These claims were shared by well-meaning residents more than a dozen times in several hours. Police later confirmed no record of the child existed.
The post - which has been plastered almost-verbatim across community forums hundreds of times worldwide in a ploy to send predatory links viral - is just a drop in the ocean.
The golden rules to protect yourself ... Remember, if it looks too good to be true, it probably is.- Spokesperson for the ACCC Scamwatch
Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) statistics show reports of phishing have hiked about 1300 per cent nationally since 2019. Elderly residents are overwhelmingly the most common victims.
About $1.3 million was reported as lost through online and social media scams in 2022, with 1228 cases reported. Over 65s accounted for about 40 per cent of losses.
"The golden rules to protect yourself ... Remember, if it looks too good to be true, it probably is," a spokesperson for ACCC Scamwatch told ACM.
"When dealing with uninvited contacts from people or businesses ... always consider the possibility the approach may be a scam."
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Administrators for some 'Buy & Sell' groups have taken proactive steps to clamp down on the spread.
"I approve all posts myself for the last few months to keep scam/fake and viral video posts to the minimum," Dan Pritchard of 'Orange Buy & Sell Marketplace NSW' told ACM.
It's unclear where the majority of scammers are operating from. Several Orange and Central West residents have been convicted for online fraud schemes, including one purporting to sell iPhones in 2022.
In January the CWD reported Orange businesswoman Jovie Bargwanna had fallen victim to an online investment scam leveraging the image of businessman Elon Musk.
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