Investment scams accounted more than a third of total losses, followed by romance scams and payment redirection scams as the next biggest categories.
The ACCC (Australian Competition and Consumer Commission) has published its latest ‘Targeting Scams’ report, revealing that Australians lost over AUD 851 million (USD 659 million) to scams in 2020, a record amount, as scammers took advantage of the pandemic.
The report compiles data from more than 444,000 individual reports including those from Scamwatch, ReportCyber, other government agencies, and 10 banks and financial intermediaries.
The report says investment scams accounted for the biggest losses, making up more than a third of total losses with AUD 328 million lost. The next biggest category were romance scams, which cost Australians AUD 131 million, while payment redirection scams resulted in AUD 128 million of losses.
ACCC Deputy Chair Delia Rickard said the real losses are expected to be even higher as many people do not report these scams.
“Unfortunately scammers continue to become more sophisticated and last year used the Covid-19 pandemic to scam and take advantage of people from all walks of life during this crisis,” she added.
Of the AUD 851 million in combined losses, AUD 176 million were reported to Scamwatch, an information service run by the ACCC to help consumers and small businesses recognise, avoid and report scams.
According to Scamwatch data, reports and losses for certain scams increased as people spent more time online during the Covid-19 pandemic lockdown.
Rickard pointed out that scammers had claimed 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.
Concurrently, health and medical scams increased more than 20 fold compared to 2019, accounting for over AUD 3.9 million in losses.
Losses to threat-based scams also grew by 178 percent to AUD 11.8 million, and there were more than AUD 8.4 million in losses to remote access scams, an increase of over 74 percent.
Additionally, phishing activity thrived during the pandemic, especially through government impersonation scams. There were over 44,000 reports of phishing scams, representing a 75 percent increase.
In terms of demographics, losses were primarily reported by people aged 55–64 (21 percent), while people aged 18–24 reported the lowest number of losses (4 percent).
Women filed more reports and more commonly fell for dating or romance scams, while men reported bigger losses and were commonly victims of investment scams.
“The figures in this report show there is still a lot of work to be done,” said Rickard, adding that the increased focus of government and law enforcement will result in more actions against scammers and better outcomes for victims.