Australians lost $340 million to scammers in 2017

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Australians lost an eye-watering $340 million to scammers in 2017, according to the latest figures from the consumer watchdog.

It is the first year that the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has reported losses of more than $300 million, with online-based scams the most prevalent.

The watchdog’s ninth annual ‘Targeting Scams Report’ indicates that more than 200,000 unique scams were submitted to the ACCC, the Australian Cybercrime Online Reporting Network (ACORN) and other state and federal agencies during 2017. Total losses were $40 million up on 2016.

“It’s very worrying that Australians are losing such extraordinary amounts to scammers,” said Delia Rickard, ACCC Deputy Chair.

“Based on just the reports provided to the ACCC, victims are losing an average of $6,500. In some cases, people have lost more than $1 million.”

The report marks the beginning of the ACCC’s National Scams Awareness Week. Its main message to Aussie consumers is to ‘Stop and check: is this for real?’ when contacted by businesses or well-known organisations, such as Centrelink, the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) or Telstra.

The rise of social media and modern technology has facilitated the growing number of scams, according to Ms Rickard.

“Some scams are becoming very sophisticated and hard to spot,” she said. “Scammers use modern technology like social media to contact and deceive their victims.

“In the past few years, reports indicate scammers are using aggressive techniques both over the phone and online.”

The public are advised to try and avoid panicking when contacted by scammers impersonating companies, trying to glean personal information or demand payments, and think ‘Is this real?’

“If something doesn’t feel right, hang up the phone or hit delete. If the person said they were, for example, from Telstra or the ATO, find the phone number for that organisation online or in the phone book, call them and let them know about the call you received. They’ll let you know if it’s genuine or a scam,” Ms Rickard said.

Who and what are scammers targeting?

The ACCC has reported that scammers primarily impersonate big companies and government entities and call or contact unwitting customers to demand money for unpaid bills or missed payments.

Companies and government departments scammers like to impersonate include the ATO, Centrelink, Telstra, other big telcos and power companies, such as Origin and AGL.

Other leading scams play on the insecurities of the public, such as money and investments, as well as dating and romance.

  • Over $31 million was reportedly lost to investment scams, a 33 per cent increase on 2016.
  • Over $20 million was lost in dating scams (e.g. fake lovers demanding money for travel).

40 per cent of scams were still conducted by phone, while 31 per cent came through email and 12 per cent via text message. Online-based scams (email, social media, apps and internet) made up the biggest proportion of scams – 42 per cent, with nearly $50 million in reported losses.

The biggest victims of scams were those aged 55+, the report says, with 29 per cent of all losses accrued by those in the 55-64 age bracket. 23 per cent of losses were recorded by those in the 65+ age bracket.

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