Australians report losses of $300 million to scams in 2016


Australians lost a startling $300 million to scams in 2016, a figure which only accounts for those cases known to authorities.

The record losses combine those reported to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission and the Australian Cybercrime Online Reporting Network, which number more than 200,000.

Investment scams accounted for the greatest losses, at a total of $59 million, followed by dating and romance scams, which netted nearly $42 million.

Hacking, social media, impersonation and fake trader scams were among other scams reported.

“No scam is nice, but what is most concerning is that we are seeing scams getting nastier than ever before,” said ACCC deputy chair Delia Rickard.

“There are a lot more threat-based scams targeting vulnerable people; pretending to be from immigration threatening deportation, threatening recipients of Centrelink, or pretending to be the ATO and claiming there is a warrant out for a person’s arrest.”

The figures are revealed in the ACCC’s annual Targeting Scams report, which coincides with the launch of the Australasian Consumer Fraud Taskforce’s Fraud Week.

This year Fraud Week is focused on social media scams, which reported losses of $9.5 million in 2016 compared to $3.8 million in 2015.

It was through social media that Maria* found herself on the cusp of falling into a romance scam earlier this year, after she was contacted by a man purporting to be a US army colonel in Hommes, Syria.

Having just come out of a long-term relationship Maria was open to meeting someone online, prompting her to accept his Facebook message request.

Conversing online with the man for around four days, Maria saw photographs and a detailed resume purportedly of the man, while he asked questions about her income and whether she owned her own home.

“He first told me his wife had died of cancer and then three days later he said his wife had been killed in a car crash … I now realise that we weren’t really having a conversation. Everything he wrote was copied and pasted and his answers never had any relevance to what I said.”

After sharing the messages with friends Maria realised the man was a likely scammer and deleted his messages.

“Luckily I didn’t send any money … but I believe it happens a lot. That’s why I reported it.”

In 2016, one third of dating and romance scam victims reported that they had come into contact with a scammer through a social media platform.

“We do despair that the number of romance scam victims never goes down. I think you have to realise just how good they are … they are very good at manipulating people’s emotions,” Ms Rickard said.

According to ACCC ScamWatch reports, phone and email were the most dominant contact methods used by scammers in 2016, while email, internet, social media and mobile applications are now considered the most common and effective methods.

Last November, the Australian Institute of Criminology assessed the links between age and consumer fraud victimisation, finding that Australians aged 18–24 were more likely to provide personal details than middle aged to older Australians.

The AIC found Australians aged 45–55 were more likely to fall victim to dating and romance fraud, while people aged 65 and over were statistically more likely to send money when encountering fraud.

In an attempt to quash the number of older Australians losing money through romance and relationship scams the ACCC is continuing to work with intermediaries, such as banks.

Through its Scam Disruption Project the ACCC uses financial intelligence to identify potential victims sending funds to high risk destinations, advising them via letter that they may be the target of a scam.

“Of those [9066] that were sent a letter, 74 per cent stopped sending money within six weeks,” Ms Rickard said.

The ACCC projects that money transfers to high-risk areas in 2016 amounted to $7.5 million, down almost 15 per cent from $8.7 million in 2015.



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