What’s a threat and penalty scam?

  • Threat and penalty scams occur when a scammer uses realistic threatening tactics to frighten their victims into sending money. 

    Sexual extortion is an example of a threat and penalty scam and is common on dating apps, social media and gaming apps. It’s important to know how to spot the signs and what to do if you think you’re being blackmailed.

How to avoid being scammed

  • What to look for

    • You’re contacted without warning on the phone, email or social media by someone pretending to be from a government agency, law enforcement, phone/utility company, or potential friend or partner.
    • The scammer creates a sense of urgency by making threats of arrest, deportation, police investigation or other serious penalty.
    • If you’re on a call with the scammer, they’ll often want you to stay on the phone while you follow their instructions. 
    • Scammers often ask for payments through unusual methods such as cryptocurrencies like bitcoin, cardless cash, cash deposits, international money transfers and gift cards/store cards.

    Any behaviour or requests like this are a red flag. You should end the call immediately. 

  • How to protect yourself

    1. Stop. Does something seem off? If in doubt, the best thing to do is stop. Take a breath.
    2. Check. Ask someone you trust or contact the organisation the message claims to be from
    3. Reject. Block the text, delete the email, don’t click the link or hang up on the caller. Change your passwords.

    Scamwatch advises:

    • Don’t be pressured by a threatening caller. Stop, think and check whether their story is true
    • A government agency or trusted company will never ask you to pay by unusual methods such as by gift or store cards, iTunes vouchers, wire transfers or bitcoins
    • If you receive a phone call from someone threatening you and asking you to pay a fee, hang up and do not respond
    • Don’t use any contact details provided by the caller. Verify their identity by calling the relevant organisation directly—find them through an independent source such as a phone book, past bill or online search
    • Don't respond to texts or emails. If you do, the scammers will increase their intimidation and attempts to get your money
    • Never send money or give credit card details, online account details or personal information to anyone you don’t know or trust and never by email or over the phone
    • Never share suspicious links to family or friends. Warn them if you come into contact with a scam, so they can take the necessary steps to protect themselves too
    • If you're concerned for your safety, contact the police

    Download our threat and penalty scam factsheet (PDF)

    下载我们的威胁及惩罚骗局资料单 -- 简体中文(PDF)

Think you've been scammed?

Message us immediately if you're worried about the security of your account. Our virtual assistant Ceba can help you lock your card or securely connect you to a specialist. 

How to message us

Get help

Been scammed? What next?

  • Get in touch

    If you (or someone you know) is a CommBank customer and has been targeted or lost money as a result of being scammed, contact us.

    If English isn’t your first language, the government’s free Translating and Interpreter Service can help you to communicate with us. This service is available in over 150 languages. We can arrange this service when you call us or visit us in branch.

    Report it

    Report the scam via the Australian Cyber Security Centre. Reports may be referred to the police for possible investigation.

    Take control and stay protected

    Change your passwords and PINs straight away if you suspect your security has been compromised. Change these regularly as a preventative measure.

    Seek support

    Contact IDCARE on 1800 595 160. IDCARE is a free, government-funded service that provides support to victims of identity crime.

Important information

  • As the advice on this website has been prepared without considering your objectives, financial situation or needs, you should, before acting on the advice, consider its appropriateness to your circumstances. View our Financial Services Guide. Terms and Conditions for these products and services are available online or from any branch of the Commonwealth Bank. The Terms and Conditions should be considered before making any decision about these products.