In 2020, scammers took advantage of the COVID-19 pandemic, to prey on unsuspecting people during the health crisis.
A record $851 million was taken from Australians last year. That’s according to a new report, released on Monday, from the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission
Deputy Chair, Delia Rickard says scammers, unfortunately, have a trick in mind for everyone.
“Different scams appeal to different groups so you’ve got older people over 65 who lose the most money and they tend to fall for things like investment scams, romance scams, remote access scams. Younger people are more likely to be a victim of online shopping scam, a cryptocurrency scam and they are particularly effective at linking their stories to topical events so the pandemic suited scammers right down to the ground unfortunately.”
The ACCC report used data from Scamwatch, ReportCyber, other government agencies, 10 banks and financial intermediaries. It was based on more than 444,000 reports.
Experts like Delia Rickard are warning the tactics being used to deceive victims are becoming increasingly sophisticated.
“The scammers wanted to get your personal information so they could try to get your early access to super rights or access benefits and other sorts of fraud. They did an incredible job at impersonating the government and because people were expecting to hear from the government at this time, it didn’t seem strange to be hearing from scammers, just like during the bushfires earlier in the year, there were a range of charity scams where people appeared to be willing to help genuine victims, but weren’t”
- Investment scams topped the list, with $328 million lost – more than a third of total losses.
- Romance scams came in next, with lonely hearts losing $131 million.
- Other people were swindled by payment redirection scams, resulting in $128 million in losses.
Director of the University of NSW Institute for Cyber Security, Professor Monica Whitty says her research has focused on the reasons why women are more likely to get pulled into romance scams.
“Older women especially middle aged women are more likely to give money. There’s a lot of mythology about that that people who are romance scammed are more likely to be the lonely type. If you compare those who are looking for a romance online and those who are scammed versus not scammed, there’s no correlation. It’s about the fact that they’re more affluent and they’re more likely to give more money and more likely to be targeted.”
Professor Whitty says the number of scams is also on the rise.
The reason why is we’re not seeing people to validate our questions and when you’re in a pandemic and you’re working from home and you are not allowed to see anyone, then you can’t actually do the things you ought to do and that is to check the validity of the person you’re meeting. Hence during the pandemic and when you’re working at home and you’re not seeing other individuals, you’ve got a world of people who are far more vulnerable to scams. When it first started, we were predicting that romance scams were going to go off the charts again.”
The ACCC’s Ms Rickard says even though the vast majority of scams come from overseas, there’s a few local ones too.
“We do have some homegrown scammers and one of the pleasing things about 2020 is a lot more resources went into scam prevention and catching scammers themselves so there were multiple arrests last year involving the AFP, state and territory police, ASIC so we do have some local ones unfortunately.”
The average financial loss to a scam was over 7-thousand-600 dollars.
Ms Rickard is urging Australians not to respond to requests for their private details over the phone or email, without verifying the source first.
“The basic rule has to be that if somebody contacts you out of the blue, by phone, by email, by SMS, no matter who they say they are, or pretend to be, do not give them your personal information, particularly financial information, don’t give them money and don’t give them remote access to your computer and if you think for any reason they might be legitimate, still hang up, press delete and go and find and independently google search the contact details for the organisation and call and check.”
It’s believed that because many people didn’t tell the watchdog when they had fallen victim to a scammer, the real losses may have been even higher.