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Aussies lost $851million lost to scams last year as the Covid Pandemic became a fraudster breeding ground.
Scammers are posing as the Australian Tax Office, shoppers, and even tinder dates to get hold of your money, according to recent data from the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC).
The record $851 million total sums for 2020 shows how scammers are taking advantage of the global pandemic to target unsuspecting people.
Sadly $176 million of that money was never recovered.
The 2020 figure also represents a 34% increase from 2019, with the average victim losing a whopping $7,677, as fraudsters thrive in the global pandemic.
According to ACCC data, a total of 444,164 scam reports were lodged in total to various agencies in 2020.
That’s the equivalent of almost 1 in every 50 Australian adults becoming a victim of a scam!
Who are these scammers and what do they want?
Scammers come in all shapes and sizes.
Some are individuals, others are gangs.
The more sophisticated scammers are criminal syndicates and foreign governments looking for a way to subvert international sanctions and obtain money through cybercrime.
The motivations of scammers ranges greatly, but can include:
- stealing intellectual property
- tricking you to install malicious software (to steal your data or hold you to ransom)
- stealing your identity so they can pretend to be you and conduct fraud
- tricking you to part with your hard-earned cash
- gaining control of your device to steal information at a later date or using your device to attack other people you know.
Who are they targeting?
The latest ACCC data found men were targeted mainly via some type of investment scam, while women lost the most amount of money to dating and romance scams.
By age group, the 25-34 age bracket reported the most amount of scams (33,122 for the year) but it was the 65+ age group who lost the most amount of money ($37.7 million in total).
Australia’s 45-54 age bracket suffered the second biggest financial loss, accounting for $32.7 million of the overall total.
Meanwhile, the younger age groups (age 24 and below) managed to avoid losing money to the scams.
Despite 33,781 scams recorded by 18-24-year-olds, the group only lost $11 million – less than a third of the bracket of our oldest Australians.
What are the most frequently used scams?
The top 3 scams causing the most financial harm to Australians, as reported by Scamwatch, ReportCyber, ASCI, other government agencies and major financial institutions are:
- Investment scams – $238 million loss
- Romance scams – $131 million loss
- Payment redirection scams – $128 million loss
According to Scamwatch, investment scams and dating & romance scams still made the top 2 most damaging scams on the list.
False billing scams, threats to life, arrest or other scams and remote access scams made up the remainder of the top 5 scams reported over the year.
Meanwhile, Australians were also targeted via online shopping scams, classified scams, health & medical product scams, identity theft and unexpected prize & lottery scams.
How are these scammers contacting their victims?
Nearly half of the victims were contacted by scammers via telephone, followed by social media, text messages, the internet, or social networking/online forums.
Fraudsters thrive during COVID-19
Australia recorded an alarming spike in scams as the coronavirus pandemic and resulting lockdowns created an environment in which fraudsters could thrive.
Victoria, which was significantly impacted by the second wave of the virus, recorded the highest losses nationwide for the first time and Victorians reported $49 million in losses to Scamwatch, more than double those in 2019, according to ACCC Deputy Chair Delia Rickard.
“We saw scammers claiming the government restrictions meant people could not see items in person before purchase.
This was a common ruse in vehicle sale and puppy scams, which both had higher reports and losses,” she said.
As people spent more time online during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown, reports and losses for some scams also increased.
Health and medical scams increased more than 20 fold compared to 2019, accounting for over $3.9 million in losses.
Losses to threat based scams increased by 178 per cent to $11.8 million, and there were more than $8.4 million in losses to remote access scams, an increase of over 74 per cent.
Phishing activity also thrived during the pandemic, especially through government impersonation scams.
There were over 44,000 reports of phishing scams, representing a 75 per cent increase.
And a Finder survey of 1,066 respondents earlier this year also revealed the same sort of worrying data.
The survey showed that a whopping 47% of Australians – equivalent to 9 million people – had received a fraudulent text or phone call since the pandemic began in March 2020.
Of those who have been contacted by a scammer, almost a third (32%) failed to report it – this is nearly three times higher than the 12% of recipients who flagged the issue with authorities.
Finder’s Consumer Sentiment Tracker reveals 74% of Australians are experiencing money stress.
Kate Browne, personal finance expert at Finder, said the current financial crisis has provided scammers with greater opportunities to take advantage of Australians at their most vulnerable.
“Fraudsters are increasingly seeking to take advantage of those experiencing uncertainty and financial instability,” she said.
“Scammers are quick to capitalise on major events such as a pandemic so it’s important to be extra vigilant over the coming years.”
Browne urged Australians to take action to improve their cybersecurity and be extra alert to scams during tax time.
9 tips to protect yourself from scammers
- Never share personal information with anyone you haven’t met – this includes someone calling you and asking you to verify your personal information.
If the call was really from your financial institution they would be able to verify themselves first.
- Use strong passwords – to make it harder for scammers to hack.
- Update your passwords regularly, and never use the same one for everything.
- Be careful when shopping online-only shop on websites that you trust and make sure the website is secure.
It will show a closed padlock or key in the URL.
- Check your credit score monthly – if you notice any unexpected changes to your score, it could be a red flag that something is wrong and should be investigated.
- Avoid public Wi-Fi – if using a public Wi-Fi network, don’t send or receive sensitive information or login to your banking or social media accounts.
- Review your privacy and security settings on social media – if you use social networking sites like Facebook or Instagram, review your options for privacy.
- Check for catfishes on dating sites by running an image search on your would-be suitor.
- Report a scam as soon as you think you’ve identified it and notify your financial institution immediately.
It could help protect your finances before they’re lost and even help protect others by stopping the scammers in their tracks.
10 warning signs you have been scammed
Unsure if you know what to look out for when it comes to identifying scams?
Here are 10 common warning signs you are dealing with a scammer:
- Being asked for password, PINs, or other sensitive information
- Being told you are owed a refund
- Being told you have unpaid bills, unpaid fines from the police or a government department
- Being notified there is a problem with your email or bank account
- Being asked for urgent help
- Being congratulated on winning a competition (you didn’t enter)
- Being asked you to click on a link or open a document
- Being sent you an unexpected invoice to open
- Receiving a critical alert message with a link to click
- Receiving a tracking number and link for delivery (you didn’t order).
How to report a scam
If you think you’ve been targeted, or have fallen victim to a scam, you need to report it immediately.
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