The ACCC’s latest Targeting Scams report indicates criminals have been ruthless, with little compassion for those already struggling during a global pandemic.
The report collates data from Scamwatch, ReportCyber, other government agencies and 10 banks and financial intermediaries, and is based on more than 444,000 reports.
Investment scams topped the losses, with $328 million, and made up a third of the total losses. Next came romance scams, costing Australians $131 million, followed by payment redirection scams, resulting in $128 million of losses.
ACCC deputy chair Delia Rickard said 2020 was the worst year yet for scam victims, and expects the figures to rise even further, as many victims don’t always report the scams.
“Unfortunately, scammers continue to become more sophisticated and last year used the COVID-19 pandemic to scam and take advantage of people from all walks of life during this crisis,” Ms Rickard said.
Of the $851 million in combined losses, $176 million were reported to Scamwatch alone.
Ms Rickard said Victoria has been hardest hit by fraudsters.
“Victoria, which was significantly impacted by the second wave of the virus, recorded the highest losses nationwide for the first time and Victorians reported $49 million in losses to Scamwatch, more than double those in 2019,” Ms Rickard said.
“We saw scammers jumping on board the government restrictions, which meant people could not see items in person before purchase. This was a common ruse in vehicle sale and puppy scams, which both had higher reports and losses.”
Online scams also increased during the lockdowns, as more people flocked to their technology.
The ACCC said health and medical scams increased more than 20-fold compared with 2019, accounting for over $3.9 million in losses. Losses to threat-based scams increased by 178 per cent to $11.8 million.
There were more than $8.4 million in losses to remote access scams, increasing by 74 per cent.
Government impersonation scams and other phishing activity also flourished during the pandemic, with over 44,000 reports of phishing scams, 75 per cent higher.