Australians lost $340 million to scammers in 2017, a $40 million increase on the year before, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) said on Monday.
More than 200,000 scam reports were submitted to the ACCC, Australian Cybercrime Online Reporting Network (ACORN), and other federal and state government agencies in 2017, according to the ACCC’s ninth annual Targeting scams report, which was released today.
The ACCC’s Scamwatch received 5,432 reports from businesses last year with $4.6 million in losses. The typical business scam was delivered by email (in 60 per cent of cases) and money was sent by bank transfer 85 per cent of the time rather than through remittance services or cryptocurrencies, which are common in other scams, the ACCC said.
The top three scam categories last year were phishing, identity theft and false billing. There were 26,386 phishing reports last year in total, resulting in $810,000 in losses and 15,703 reports of identity theft, causing more than $1 million in losses. Phishing and identity theft were the most prevalent phone-based scams with 20,220 reports but investment phone scams results in highest losses of $17 million.
Investment scams topped the losses at $64 million, an increase of more than eight per cent, while dating and romance scams caused the second greatest losses at $42 million.
People in NSW lost the most money at $28 million, followed by Victorians ($23 million) and Queenslanders ($14.2 million).
ACCC deputy chair Delia Rickard, noted that scammers have been using social media to contact and deceive their victims and in the past few years, reports indicated that scammers are using aggressive techniques over the phone and online.
“It’s very worrying that Australians are losing such extraordinary amounts to scammers. Based on just the reports provided to the ACCC, victims are losing an average of $6500. In some cases, people have lost more than $1 million,” Rickard said.
Scamwatch received almost 33,000 reports of threat-based impersonation scams in 2017. More than $4.7 million was reported lost and more than 2800 people gave their personal information to scammers.
Rickard said scammers will impersonate the Australian Taxation Office and threaten people with immediate arrest unless they pay an outstanding bill.
“They pretend to be from Telstra to try and hack into your computer or from Centrelink promising extra payments in return for a fee,” he said.
“Scammers scare us or butter us up with promises of cash because they know it clouds our judgement. People get so worried about being arrested they don’t question if the person threatening them is genuine.”
“If you’re being threatened, take a deep breath, and ask yourself if the call makes sense. The ATO will never threaten you with immediate arrest; Telstra will never need to access your computer to ‘fix’ a problem; and Centrelink will never require a fee to pay money it owes you. Finally, none of these organisations will ask you to pay using iTunes gift cards,” he said.
This week is Scams Awareness Week and this year, Scamwatch is asking people to 'Stop and check: is this for real?' when they are contacted by scammers who are pretending to be from well-known government organisations or businesses.
Follow Byron Connolly on Twitter: @ByronConnolly