Just over 177,500 Aussies were swindled out of $107 million in total during 2018, marking a new record in the amount of financial loss reported to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s (ACCC) Scamwatch website and phone helpline in one year.
It is also an 18% increase over the $90.9 million in financial loss Scamwatch reported in 2017.
Investment scams were the most financially damaging last year, wiping $38.8 million from people’s coffers, according to the ACCC’s ‘Targeting Scams’ report released today.
The report is based off what victims have told Scamwatch, but when including data from other government agencies, money lost to investment scams exceeded $86 million last year.
Scamwatch found dating and romance scams were the second most financially damaging with losses of $24.6 million, but combined with reports from other government agencies, this jumped to $60.5 million plus.
“Women reported losing most to dating and romance scams with $19.5 million in losses, while men were most affected by investment scams, reporting losses of $29.1 million (based on Scamwatch data)”, the report said.
The report said the number of victims being lured by scammers via Instagram, Tinder and Viber were on the rise.
One anonymous victim featured in the report talked about forming a romantic online relationship with a man called “Jack” who said he was a 45-year-old US Army captain on a peacekeeping mission in Syria.
“I fell in love with him and trusted everything he told me,” the person said.
“He first asked for money in relation to a precious box containing cash and gold that came into his possession during his mission in Syria.
“He told me that if he could get the box safely back to the US then he could retire and then come to be with me.”
He then asked for help in paying for his vacation, followed by a story of being shot by ISIS and that he needed more money.
The victim ended up being scammed out of $30,000.
ACCC Deputy Chair Delia Rickard said total combined losses reported to Scamwatch and other government agencies was nearly half a billion dollars for 2018, $149 million more than the prior year.
“These extraordinary losses show that scammers are causing significant financial and emotional harm to many Australians,” Ms Rickard said.
“Scammers are adapting old scams to new technology, seeking payment through unusual methods and automating scam calls to increase their reach to potential victims.”
In late 2018, thousands of Australian households were hit with automated phone calls from scammers impersonating the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) and threatening people with the thought of being arrested for unpaid taxes.
Ms Rickard said scammers were using pressure and fear tactics with technology to trick people into parting with their money.
“Scammers increasingly ask for money via iTunes cards, Google Play cards and cryptocurrencies to avoid the anti-scam measures employed by banks and money laundering detection systems,” she said.
She said Australian businesses were also being targeted by sophisticated email scams where fraudsters hack into businesses’ email systems, impersonate key personnel and request changes to regular bank account details, resulting in money being transferred to the scammer’s account.
Many Australian businesses were caught off guard last year because the emails appeared genuine, with more than $60 million lost to this type of scam.
Other tactics the ACCC’s report says scammers are using include:
- False billing scams where both consumers and businesses receive emails asking for payment for goods or services
- Scammers impersonate the police and ask for access to a victim’s computer to catch scammers (Scamwatch received more than 11,300 reports of this type of scam that resulted in $4.7 million in financial losses in 2018)
- Scammers typically gain access to your private information by breaking into your mailbox, phishing emails and text messages, fake online quizzes and surveys, fake online stores, hacking your email and other online accounts and sending social media requests from fake accounts.
To report a scam or to learn more about what to do if you’re targeted by scams, visit Scamwatch.