The Samsung Galaxy S10 is never going to sell for as little at $3. Picture: Jennifer Dudley-Nicholson/News Corp Australia
The Samsung Galaxy S10 is never going to sell for as little at $3. Picture: Jennifer Dudley-Nicholson/News Corp Australia

How tech expert got caught up in a sweeping online scam

They say the culprit is always the person you least suspect, and I can now confirm that theory.

After years covering internet scams, of talking to Aussie celebrities about face creams they never really sold and Bitcoin schemes they never devised, the very last person I suspected to be behind such a scam was me.

But it's all out there on the internet. An article by one 'Jennifer Nicholson' who works for 'News Corp Australia' and was published on 'News.com.au' is clearly trying to con people with the promise of $3 Samsung Galaxy S10 smartphones.

Even though I apparently dropped the Dudley from my name and have no recollection of offering to sell anyone a Samsung phone, let alone for the bargain price of $3, and much less writing a story about it, it must be me. The internet says so.

A little digging around shows these buy-a-phone-for-$3 con jobs have popped up in New Zealand, the United States, Norway, Sweden, India, and France, with stories also appearing on Yahoo News, Stuff NZ, The Guardian, and the BBC (who seemingly have changed their masthead blue).

If the offer seems to good to be true, like a $3 Samsung S10, it definitely is. Picture: supplied
If the offer seems to good to be true, like a $3 Samsung S10, it definitely is. Picture: supplied

No wonder I wake up tired. Maybe I'm sleep-scamming.

Despite Samsung's efforts to complain to Facebook - the platform on which the scammers pay to advertise again and again - they're still out there in the wild. The social network seems unable or unwilling to stop them.

I found an active French version of the scam this week, with a news story that led readers to what looked like a legitimate Samsung website. It was set up to take my credit card details and charge me for the super cheap phone straight away.

But the stark reality is that there are no phones and I am no more culpable for this attempted theft than any of the other Australian names that have been exploited to trick people out of their cash.

The fact that they chose me - hardly a household name, and definitely no morning TV star - to flog their vicious scheme should be a concern to everyone. As should the fact that this "news article" looks alarmingly real.

The actual criminals behind the scheme have gone to great lengths to copy the publication's masthead, the font, the caption style, even the date format of News.com.au to make it look like they can be trusted. They cannot.

And although I see a lot of these scams, this genuinely shocked me when it arrived in my inbox from a canny reader.

The smartphone scam, promoted on Facebook, is mocked up to look like the official news.com.au website with a Jennifer Dudley-Nicholson byline. Picture: supplied
The smartphone scam, promoted on Facebook, is mocked up to look like the official news.com.au website with a Jennifer Dudley-Nicholson byline. Picture: supplied

I've been a journalist for more than 20 years and specialised in consumer tech reporting for more than a decade. I've queued in the cold for the first iPhone to hit Australia, and flown overseas to see the first folding phone in the (metallic) flesh.

I regularly swap operating systems and try different brands in a bid to be impartial. I try to follow innovation rather than hype. I write frank tech reviews and try to identify trends.

To think that scammers are trading on the reputation I've tried to build first made me ill, and now just makes me angry. They're using it to steal money from people who don't deserve to lose it, and exploiting a medium that won't stop them.

It doesn't help that these scams have been rampant on Facebook for years. We need better solutions to shut them down, because we currently have almost none.

While we wait for them - from the government, a digital platforms ombudsman like the ACCC recommended, or the social network itself - please don't let me, or anyone who sounds like me, sell you a phone.

Keep your $3 close, and your credit card details closer.

Jennifer Dudley-Nicholson is a national technology editor.



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