Almost half a billion dollars was lost by Australians in 2018 to scammers, according to the ACCC’s annual Target Scams report, with some disturbing trends beginning to emerge.
“Total combined losses reported to Scamwatch and other government agencies exceeded $489 million [last year] — $149 million more than 2017,” said ACCC deputy chair Delia Rickard.
“And these record losses are likely just the tip of the iceberg. We know that not everyone who suffers a loss to a scammer reports it to a government agency.”
Which scams delivered the biggest losses?
According to the report, investment scams accounted for the biggest financial losses suffered by their victims, adding up to $86 million reported to all government agencies. This was followed by losses amounting to $60.5 million on romance and dating scams.
Just among those scams reported directly to the ACCC’s Scamwatch, investment scams accounted for more than $38.8 million in losses, with dating and romance scams fleecing victims of more than $24.6 million.
The next biggest loss generators were false billing scams ($5.5 million) and remote access scams (almost $4.8 million).
The remaining top 10 (rounded to the nearest $10,000) were:
- Threats to life, of arrest or other ($3.34 million)
- Online shopping scams ($3.28 million)
- Hacking ($3.13 million)
- Unexpected prize or lottery scams ($2.75 million)
- Betting/sports investment scams ($2.63 million)
- Classifieds scams ($2.36 million)
Who are scammers targeting?
A demographics breakdown reveals that those aged 65 years and over are more likely to fall victim to scams than any other age group, accounting for almost one in four (22 per cent) of all victims.
And while this age group has the same proportion of financial losses, those still of working age between 55 and 64 years have the highest losses in dollar terms, accounting for 26 per cent of all money lost.
The amount of money lost steadily decreases with age.
While dollar values on losses were negligible, it is concerning to note that 1 per cent of all reported scams were made by minors aged under 18 years.
The ACCC also found an interesting discrepancy among the sexes when it came to scam losses: Men lost more money to scams ($56.9 million) than women ($48.8 million) last year, despite more women having fallen victim to a scam (94,200 women reported scam losses compared with 79,600 reports made by men).
How do scammers reach their victims?
Despite recent warnings of text message and email-based scams, these two combined fell well behind the number of phone scams.
Scams made by phone accounted for almost half (46.9 per cent) of those reported to Scamwatch last year — with 83,247 reports generating losses worth $30.3 million.
Email was the next favourite tool of scammers, with 41,170 reports generating losses of $25.3 million.
A comparatively small $2.1 million was lost to text message scams in 2018, despite the 25,595 reports making up 14.4 per cent of all scams reported to the regulator.
But the reverse was true when it came to scams made via social media: Despite accounting for only 3.8 per cent of all reported scams (6,828 reports), losses came in at a staggering $15.7 million — suggesting that this method is much more effective at duping people out of larger volumes of money.
“These extraordinary losses show that scammers are causing significant financial and emotional harm to many Australians,” Ms Rickard said.
“Scammers are adapting old scams to new technology, seeking payment through unusual methods and automating scam calls to increase their reach to potential victims.”
She added: “Scammers are using pressure and fear tactics combined with technology to trick people into parting with their money.”
Ms Rickard said that the ACCC has been working with banks and other financial service providers, as well as online classified sites, to “disrupt scams”. But she called on other stakeholders and conduits to up their game in combatting scams.
“This year, we, along with the ACMA [Australian Communications and Media Authority] and ACSC [Australian Cyber Security Centre], would also like to see social media platforms and telecommunications providers doing more to limit the ability of scammers to connect with victims,” she said.
Adam Zuchetti is the editor of My Business, and has steered the publication’s editorial direction since early 2016.