Australians lost a record $2 billion to scams in 2021. While vast swathes of people fell victim, more vulnerable members of the community experienced record levels of reported offences and financial losses.
The Australian Competition & Consumer Commission’s (ACCC) latest Targeting Scams report revealed that despite significantly increased disruption of scam activity by government agencies, law enforcement and the private sector, losses to scams more than doubled (135%) year-on-year.
Investment scams accounted for the greatest amount of losses ($701 million) throughout 2021, followed by payment redirection scams ($227 million), and romance scams ($142 million).
Although women reported the most scams, men incurred greater losses. In particular, men ($118.4 million) lost double the amount women ($58.1 million) did to investment scams. In culturally and linguistically diverse communities, women suffered slightly higher losses than men.
Vulnerable sections of society are most at risk
The ACCC’s report, released by Scamwatch, found record levels of reports and losses among Australians that may have been experiencing vulnerability or hardship. These consumers can often be difficult to reach through traditional channels, which makes it tough to provide the necessary assistance, advice and protections.
Retirees and the elderly
Individuals aged 65 and over made the most reports (46,286) to Scamwatch and sustained the highest losses ($82 million) of any age group. Loss amounts steadily increased with age.
People with disabilities
People with disabilities made twice as many reports (15,387) in 2021 compared to the previous year, and their financial losses more than doubled to $19.6 million.
The number of Indigenous Australians that reported a scam (4,958) rose by two fifths year-on-year, while there were almost two and a half times more reported losses in 2021 than in 2020, totalling $4.8 million.
Half of these losses ($2.4 million) were attributed to Indigenous people in Queensland. Younger Indigenous people lost more money compared to their elders – a differing trend from other demographics.
Culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) communities
Members of these communities made 14,060 reports in 2021. Financial losses ($42 million) among CALD communities almost doubled compared to 2020. The median loss ($1,200) for people in these populations was greater than that of the overall median across all reporters ($845).
CALD communities were particularly vulnerable to scams over mobile apps. The Hope Business app scam was responsible for a significant amount of losses last year. It promised high earnings if people transferred money into an app and completed specified tasks.
Payment redirection as a result of compromised business emails accounted for the highest losses to businesses ($227 million) in 2021. Businesses reported most of these scams to ReportCyber and the banks.
Small businesses had the highest median losses ($3,812) among all sectors, losing $3.5 million to scams in 2021.
What to look out for when it comes to scams
Scammers are largely opportunistic criminals, posing as charities after a natural disaster, health departments during a pandemic, and family members or love interests every day of the week.
“The true cost of scams is more than a dollar figure as they also cause serious emotional harm to individuals, families, and businesses,” ACCC deputy chair Delia Rickard said.
There has been a spate of family sympathy scams in recent months. More than 1,150 Australians have fallen victim to these scams in the first seven months of 2022, with reported losses totalling $2.6 million.
Known as ‘Hi Mum’ or ‘family impersonation’ scams, victims are contacted – most often through instant messaging platform WhatsApp – by a scammer posing as a family member or friend in need of quick cash or personal information.
There was a spike last year in scams relating to pyramid and ponzi schemes, largely due to the emergence of a number of highly sophisticated ponzi investment scam apps.
More than half of all losses to scams that occurred during the first four months of 2022 were attributed to investment scams involving cryptocurrency, according to Scamwatch.
“We have seen a marked decline in some of the older, low-end scams and an enormous increase in more sophisticated ‘white-collar’ fraud, such as cryptocurrency investment scams,” Ms Rickard said.
“If an investment opportunity seems too good to be true, we urge all Australians to not go anywhere near it,” Ms Rickard said.
What can you do to protect yourself?
It’s more important than ever to be wary of who has access to your personal information and how secure it is.
The recent Optus hack was a blunt reminder that your personal information is constantly at risk of exposure in the digital age. Optus’ customer network comprises almost 10 million Australians. That’s 40 per cent of the population.
Performing regular credit score checks is a sensible, preventative measure to monitor whether someone has illicitly used your personal information to obtain a line of credit.
Your credit score helps lenders determine whether or not you’re an equitable borrower. If your details are used to procure a loan, this may negatively impact your credit rating and borrowing capacity.
RateCity offers a safe and efficient way to check your credit score for free. You’ll receive credit scores from two of the world’s largest credit reporting agencies, Equifax and Experian. This inquiry won’t affect your score.