ASIC has reported an increase in investment scams during the COVID-19 pandemic, with most cryptocurrency “opportunities” in particular panning out to be outright scams.
The corporate watchdog saw a 20% increase in scam reports from March to May this year, with Australian consumers falling victim to opportunistic scammers.
ASIC executive director for assessment and intelligence Warren Day said COVID-19 had created a perfect storm.
“Australians are at risk of being scammed and losing money, and scammers are using age-old tactics in new and sophisticated ways to target people,” he said.
“We are seeing a spike in reports of scams related to fake crypto-assets (or cryptocurrencies), term deposits, investments and scams that start via romance sites.”
In particular, the corporate watchdog is concerned about the risk for investors falling for scams relating to fake cryptocurrency assets.
“Most crypto-asset investment opportunities reported to ASIC appear to be outright scams and there is no actual underlying investment,” Day said.
Reports received by ASIC indicate that investment scams often have similar traits, and usually present a range of investment offers (from modest to high returns) to sound safer than they actually are.
Scammers typically will make persistent requests to continue investing despite no evidence of actual returns, the watchdog said, or will request money to be paid to a person or company into multiple or constantly changing bank accounts.
It also warned investors to steer clear of any schemes displaying fake celebrity or government endorsements, as well as any offers on romance or dating sites that may direct someone to send them money or invest in cryptocurrencies or forex trading.
It comes as the ACCC releases its Targeting Scams 2019 report, which found that Australians lost $126 million to investment schemes in 2019.