How to avoid online scams

Scammers online are rife these days, with Australian victims perceived to be rather soft targets.

Gone are the days where we might be duped by Nigerian Princes or very poorly written emails from, apparently, Margot Robbie (yes, I got one of these once). Instead, scammers often rely on your goodwill or perhaps a moment of vulnerability to trick you into thinking you need their help to avoid “unnecessary and unwanted charges”, and before you know it they are accessing your computer and perhaps your bank accounts.

So how do you spot these from the real deal?

Read on for some tips on how to avoid being scammed.

How is this service contacting me?

With the abundance of choice of streaming services or similar, comes a vast choice of ways for scammers to grab your attention.

popular streaming servicesWhether it’s a big bank, Netflix, Disney+, Amazon, the ATO, Telstra, or something else, scammers will throw any well known service out there, casting the net as wide as possible, and see what lands. This sort of scamming can be described as phishing, as the scammers are trying to land any fish. That’s you, you’re the fish. Don’t be the fish.

The way this works is you receive an email, text message or phone call out of the blue that appears to come from a bank, or a service you might use (eg. Netflix) that either tells you that your credit card details are out of date and need updating, or that you have just been successfully charged and if you no longer want to be charged, click THIS button!

These emails are often alarmist in nature (YOUR SERVICE IS ABOUT TO BE CANCELLED!), often require you to do something quickly (ACT NOW!), and/or trying to trick you into thinking you have been charged something when you haven’t (THANK YOU FOR THE PAYMENT OF $70 IF THIS IS IN ERROR CLICK HERE OR CALL THIS NUMBER!), for the purpose of you making a rash decision and calling the number, or clicking the bright shiny button.

Clicking the button within these emails might do one of several things:

  • Take you to a fake, sometimes well branded (sometimes not), website for you to enter card details
  • Convince you to make a phone call to the number provided to talk about your “refund”, and thereby hand over card or banking details
  • Perhaps ultimately convince you to download some sort of remote access software to “help” you with the refund
  • Something else that is just as dangerous

All of this spells major trouble, and the downloading of remote access software (eg. AnyDesk, AnyPlace Control, Ultra Viewer) fills me with the most dread.

Some personal experiences

how to avoid scammers onlineIn the last month I have had no less than 3 customers contact me due to activities based on the above. All of them had a similar story to tell, they were all a little embarrassed about what had happened, were a little vulnerable at the time due to a hectic life or less than ideal personal circumstances, and had unwittingly allowed access to their machine and in some cases, bank accounts.

One person hadn’t lost anything and realised what was going on, and quickly shut it down.

Another lost a few hundred dollars, but was apparently getting it back from the bank after discussing the situation with them. In this instance, it was bills that appeared to come from Google that the victim had paid, and having an online business was quite used to receiving such bills.

Another had someone in their accounts and setting up payments to a third party before they realised what was going on. Last I heard, they were trying to talk to the bank about getting over $9,000 back …

Another common scam is to say that you have been charged a relatively small amount of money. For the sake of an example, let’s say $50.00 and now you are looking for a refund because you never signed up for this service to begin with, so how dare they take your $50 to begin with, right? Helpful Company (the scammer) says they have refunded you, but OH NO they have made a mistake and refunded you $500.00. Now if you can just be kind enough to refund that money back to the account number they’ll provide (“you might not see the $500 in your account yet, because you know it clears overnight”), because if you don’t they’ll get fired and then who will feed their 5 children … you get the idea but in this way they are trying to prey on your goodwill and sense of doing the right thing. Now just download this Remote Access software and Helpful Company will walk you through it!

Things to look out for

Poorly spelled email subjects, or content. Dead giveaway, though less and less common. However, legit company emails are good at getting the spelling perfect. Also look for impersonal emails (Dear Customer, versus your real name).

Do you even use the service? I got an email recently that I admit looked great. Content was solid, good use of logos and other imagery. Only a slight typo in the subject which I didn’t actually notice on the first read. If I actually had a Paramount+ account, I might have even believed that I was about to be cut off!

Buttons, links, click-throughs that go somewhere completely different to the expectation. A lot of email viewers these days will show you where the email has come from (return email address) or where the link is going to, when you hover on it. Try this, and see what it says. The email that I received recently telling me that my Disney+ account currently has “suspension your account” I doubt should really be using imagery or links from “”. That all of the footer information was in Spanish is quite the red flag also.

ANY text message or SMS that wants you to click a link. This is popular with bank and tax/ATO scams. If in doubt, don’t believe them, and contact your bank or service via another means (look up the phone number in a separate Google search). The real service providers don’t want to lose your business, and won’t simply cut you off. Just TRY and genuinely disconnect from Foxtel to see how difficult it is!

No service wants to be paid via Apple iTunes cards (a still popular ATO scam).

Nobody is going to buy your car sight unseen via a friend/agent that only wants to pay via PayPal and pick it up to deliver to Far North QLD or the NT.

If you have been told that an amount from a service you don’t use has been successfully charged, check your bank accounts to verify it is true. And don’t click the button.

The last word

It only takes a couple of bites, a small number of people to take the hook, for the scammers to make a good amount of money. This is a large part of why such scams continue to be seen.

By being ever vigilant and perhaps even a little suspicious of any email asking you to click a link or button to avoid cancellation of a service (or to commence a refund process) you can help keep yourself and your money safe.

Please don’t ever, EVER, allow someone you don’t know and trust to install any sort of remote access software on your computer.

And don’t click the shiny button.

How to remove the text “Published On:” in Avada custom archive page

Avada theme screenshot

Recently I created a custom Blog and Blog Archive page for a site using the Avada theme, and this brought my first experience with Fusion Builder. 

This in itself was a reasonably smooth process, once I watched a tutorial or two on how to best delineate between header, content, and footer.

Whilst I got the Blog page working the way I wanted it, I noticed on the Blog Archive page that, within the meta information, some extra strings were being presented such as showing “Published On:” before the published date, and “Categories:” before the list of categories. These don’t show on the standard Blog page, and it seemed more tied to the Post Card Blog Archive element I was using.

I couldn’t find any way within Avada options (nor element options) to control this, or change the labelling.

Thanks to this Stack Overflow question, I was able to find more generally where the issue was coming from but then had to dive a little deeper to find out the exact file in question, as it wasn’t mentioned in any of the answers.

Part of the issue is that the above mentioned strings all form part of a single span, meaning that the “Published On:” string was immediately followed by the actual published date, and contained within a single span. This meant a CSS solution alone was not going to work.

So, for those that might have followed the same path and looking for something a little more specific, I can tell you that the way I fixed it was to find the Fusion Builder plugin (fusion-builder), then the “shortcodees” folder, “components” folder, meta.php file.

Doing a search for “Published On:” within this file showed this:

case 'published_date':
	/* Translators: %s: Date. */
	$content .= '<span class="fusion-tb-published-date">' . sprintf( esc_html__( 'Published On: %s', 'fusion-builder' ), get_the_time( $date_format ) ) . '</span>' . $separator;
	break;<br />

I kept the “%s” component so that the code now read as this (recommended to make a copy of the original file before editing):

case 'published_date':
	/* Translators: %s: Date. */
	$content .= '<span class="fusion-tb-published-date">' . sprintf( esc_html__( '%s', 'fusion-builder' ), get_the_time( $date_format ) ) . '</span>' . $separator;

Rinse and repeat for “Categories:” and any other meta label you might want to remove. Save the file, and upload it to the server, refresh the page and got the result I wanted.

The downside of this method is that the changes will need to be made again if and when the Avada theme is updated, but to date I have not found another way to handle this situation.

In the meantime, I hope this information has helped you!

Unable to purchase Robux via App Store for my child’s Roblox

roblox characters

As the father of a child under the age of 13, I am often tasked with giving permission for her to purchase / install apps on her iPad, including purchases of Robux for her rather popular Roblox app. Sometimes though the permissions don’t seem to work, and I either don’t get the notification at all, or trying to act on it doesn’t work as expected. Here’s how we fixed it.

Despite her best intentions, such as saving her pocket money and literally giving me the money to pay for her desired Robux purchases, something screwy seems to go wrong with the whole Parental Controls thing when it comes to the Apple app store.

She would request the Robux purchase. The app would tell her she needs to ask permission. She’d do that. I’d get the notification. I’d try to open the notification (which for some weird reason has started opening in Apple Messages). I’d click View in Store. I’d get a message on screen, “Cannot Connect to App Store”.

What we tried

Restarting both iPads; shutting them down and cold booting them up again (not just a restart).

Making sure both iPads had the most up to date versions of iOS.

Making sure she had the most up to date version of the app. To be fair, these first two or three things have normally fixed things for us in the past. Not this time.

Googling a lot.

In some desperation, even going to Bing.

Yelling a lot.

How we fixed it

Need to give the credit to my 11 year old here.

Her idea was to install Roblox on my iPad, and then log into it using her account. We then made the purchase of Robux and because it went via my natural Apple App Store, no permission was required (which is good because my parents would have said no).

Back onto her iPad, and restarted Roblox, logged in, and voila! Robux purchase was there!

I could then remove Roblox from my iPad. This kind of work around / fix might work for other apps too, so long as you have another Apple device that can be used to install the app on. If this has helped you, please let me know in the comments!

Making your WordPress site mobile friendly for Google

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As you may know, as of April 21 2015 Google will rank mobile-friendly websites higher than those that are not mobile-friendly. If you’re not sure whether you pass the mobile-friendly test, Google provides a link where you can simply enter your site URL, and see some general results. If not mobile-friendly, Google offers some advice but often these pieces of advice can’t be directly applied to a WordPress site, although it does go some way to explain general design principals of making a WordPress site more mobile-friendly.

Read more Making your WordPress site mobile friendly for Google

How to play Clash of Clans on PC (or Mac)

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Yes I admit, I play Clash of Clans. Much to the chagrin of my wife. It’s one of few things I actually use my iPad for. My 2 and 4 year old daughters have a far more impressive array of apps. However, sometimes it isn’t handy to use the iPad, whether one of my kids has it, or it is busy charging, or I am already at my computer desk it’d just kill me to have to get up and retrieve my tablet. Recently I have discovered how to play Clash of Clans on PC, and indeed, any Android game or app available in the Google Play store. Here’s how. Read more How to play Clash of Clans on PC (or Mac)