Barely a week goes by without a headline about a victim being scammed out of their savings. Barely a week goes by without receiving a scam phone call or text message that could be the reason those savings are stolen.

LOCALS are taking advantage of a free interactive education tool to enhance their digital literacy as Australians lose billions of dollars to scams.

Sally Castle, who is an instructional designer and manager of the learning management system at Central Gippsland Health in Sale, created an interactive scenario-based e-learning tool called ‘It’s not funny! don’t lose your money!’, after seeing the distress her elderly mother experienced as a scam victim.

“This was a pretty big problem that was coming up in our family because my mum had been scammed several times and just seeing the distress she experienced…I thought if I created a simple to use, clear, interactive e-learning course that she could actually practise hanging up on scammers, practise getting dodgy calls, practise getting scam texts and then following the steps to actually prevent herself from sharing that information. It would build up her skills for real life,” she said.

Sally said the online program, which she spent over five months planning and creating, takes “dull” information about how to avoid scams and allows users to act out real life situations.

“It’s flipping the model; instead of giving information, you’re actually encouraging the learner to seek information when (and if) they need it,” Sally said.

Like a ‘choose your own adventure’ simulation, users play a character that is presented with three potential scams, including two text messages and a phone call.

“The benefit of when you create an e-learning course that is scenario-based… (is it’s encouraging) people to practise doing what they need to do in a real life situation, but without the real life situation risks if they make a mistake,” Sally said.

Now, she is sharing the e-learning tool with community houses across Gippsland for free.

Sally Castle (left) created the ‘It’s not funny! Don’t lose your money!’ e-learning tool after her mother Eleanor was scammed. Photos: Sally Castle

Elderly Australians the most vulnerable  

In April this year, the Australian Consumer and Competition Commission released its latest scam activity report (2023). It found scam phone calls contributed to the highest losses – $116 million out of a total $2.74 billion lost last year. However, the lucrative activity is ever evolving. Scam calls are just one avenue Australians are losing money; losses to social media scams increased by 16 per cent and text messages were the most reported form of contact in 2023.

The first time Mirboo North resident Eleanor Castle was scammed, she was targeted by a text message claiming she needed to put some money into Centrelink and that she was being paid too much on her pension.

The 83-year-old said she accepted it and followed the process because she depends on that money.

“I don’t even look to see if it’s (pension) in each fortnight but you are still dependent on that and living within that,” she said.

After calling the number, she recalled being “very clearly” guided through the process. While Eleanor said she felt suspicious, it had already gone too far.

Constant warnings about new scams and tips to stay safe from cybercriminals are everywhere. Organisations like Scamwatch and the ACCC have no shortage of resources too.

So why are people still getting scammed? And in particular, people aged over 65.

The ACCC’s report showed people aged over 65 were more likely to lose money than any other age group. While monetary losses went down for every other age demographic, older people lost $121 million to scams in 2023, a 13 per cent increase from 2022.

When an unknown caller ID or mysterious text message with a link lights up your phone, do you stop to think it could be a scammer waiting to swindle your money away?

To some, stopping or ignoring them may be common sense. The ACCC’s advice is ‘STOP, CHECK, and REPORT’:

  • STOP – Don’t rush to act because scammers will create a sense of urgency.
  • CHECK – Ask, could this message or call be fake, and who is really on the other end? If unsure, talk to a friend or family member before providing money or personal information.
  • REPORT – Act quickly if something feels wrong and help others in the community by reporting it to Scamwatch.

However, experts are calling scams an epidemic in an evolving technological landscape, where both older and younger Australians are struggling to adapt to emerging technologies. This is according to Dr Kam-Fung (Henry) Cheung, who is a Lecturer in the school of Information Systems and Technology at the University of New South Wales.

Scammers prey on vulnerability to ‘rob’ Australians

At the time the ACCC’s scam report was released, Deputy Chair Catriona Lowe called scammers “financial criminals” that use “advanced technology and psychology” to rob Australians.

Dr Cheung said this can look like exploiting emotional triggers by creating a sense of urgency, fear, or excitement that limits victims objective thinking to ‘STOP, CHECK, REPORT’.

Investment scams, often characterised by ‘get rich quick’ and ‘once in a lifetime’ schemes play into excitement. They were the most common scam in 2023, costing Australians $1.5 billion.

Other scams that create a sense of fear and urgency like tax time SMS or emails the Australian Taxation Office has released warnings about prior to the end of financial year, or tax debt scams, direct people to fake myGov sign-in pages designed to steal usernames and passwords.

While warnings about scams and steps to take to avoid them abound, Sally said the information is dull to read and ultimately not accessible for many people.

“In the industry it’s called information dumps, where they just put a lot of words on a screen and people are expected to read that information, a) understand it and then apply knowledge to behaviour,” she said.

The ACCC says being scammed is never the victim’s fault.

Dr Cheung told the Gippsland Times older Australians are more susceptible to sophisticated scam tactics because of heightened trust in authority and limited exposure to digital literacy education.

Sally noted her mother Eleanor “tends to believe” people who call or text, claiming they’re from MyGov, the bank, or the ATO.

“That tends to be our culture and her age group…and that’s also a highly emotional situation where your cognition is challenged, so it’s harder for you to stop and think because someone is pressuring you,” she said.

Dr Cheung also said low technological literacy could hinder older Australians’ absorption of information, leaving them vulnerable. An ACCC spokesperson told the Gippsland Times people over the age of 75 have reported declining levels of cyber ability over the last three years.

“Terms like AI, Big Data, and Cybersecurity are frequently heard, yet many people may not fully grasp their meanings or implications,” Dr Cheung said.

Speak up to safeguard others

On subsequent occasions Eleanor encountered scams, she said it became easier to discern if they were fake. She says she gets at least one scam text a week.

“The next couple of times, you start to wake up that this is (a scam). I can’t be bothered following (because) you’re on the phone for about half and hour. But then you’re on the phone for about half and hour for anything you query with the government or big companies like Telstra or anything, so you get a bit sick of it,” Eleanor said.

Although Eleanor has not lost any money because her bank intervened quickly, she said she felt “very very stupid and lost a lot of confidence”.

“I didn’t tell anybody at the start,” she said.

“After the first time I just didn’t tell anyone because I thought ‘Oh, goodness me, my children are going to think I’m incapable of managing’, and which I am not not capable of managing.”

But speaking up is necessary. Caroline Trevorrow is the manager at the Heyfield Community Resource Centre where Sally recently hosted an ‘It’s not funny! don’t lose your money!’ session.

Ms Trevorrow said the community house often hears instances of people encountering scams in conversation.

“Scammers are getting smarter and the frequency of people getting messages is more common now, so you hear it kind of every week.”

She said scam information sessions are sought after, calling the ‘It’s not funny! don’t lose your money!’ program “relevant” and “worthwhile”.

“A lot of older people in the community are kind of terrified of technology and they process things in a different way that younger people do, so they like to talk to people about it and they like to talk to people that have had experiences about it and then that gives them credibility,” Ms Trevorrow said.

Sally took the free e-learning tool to Heyfield Community House Resource Centre recently.

Today, Eleanor is not afraid to share her experiences with friends.

“Now that I have shown (the e-learning program) to a couple of my friends just because I’m so proud of Sally that they have said ‘Oh yes it’s happened to us’.”

“It’s clear and it’s simple, and I’ve shown it to a couple of my friends and also they feel that it’s just clear and simple, nothing complicated about any of it,” Eleanor said.

Ms Trevorrow agreed based on community feedback from the Heyfield Community Resource Centre session.

“A lot of the feedback from the participants was that you don’t have to have an academic degree to understand the language, it’s plain language, it’s easy to understand, it was an interactive experience which they really liked,” she said.

“I would encourage other centres to pick it and when it is offered in other community’s I’d encourage people to take it up because it’s not just another scam session, it’s interactive, it’s relevant, and it’s definitely worthwhile.”

When asked what advice Eleanor would say to others, she highlighted that speaking up and being open means other people can be protected from scams.

“Be open about it, to not feel ashamed and to be open about it with each other. Because, if you’re open about it with each other it won’t happen to them.”

Sally is hosting the following ‘It’s not funny! don’t lose your money!’ sessions at:

  • Sale Neighbourhood House on Wednesday (today), June 26, 12pm – 1pm.
  • Leongatha Community House on Tuesday, July 16, 1pm – 2pm.
  • Rosedale Neighbourhood House on Tuesday, July 30, 10.30am – 11.30am.
  • Seaspray General Store on Wednesday, July 31 10.30am – 11.30am.
  • Maffra Neighbourhood House on Monday, August 12, 10.30am – 11.30am.

The sessions take approximately one hour, and include:

  • Introduction and the story behind why I designed this eLearning experience.
  • Get some input from the participants about their experiences with scams
  • Go through the eLearning experience together on the big screen (of if they have their own devices and headphones – individually)
  • Discussion on what they will do differently now, now that they have had a chance to practise online
  • Reminder of what to do immediately after they realise they have been scammed.

To use the ‘It’s not funny! Don’t lose your money!’ e-learning tool visit:

To report a cybercrime, incident or vulnerability: or visit

To get help after falling victim to a scam: IDCARE at or phone: 1800 595 160