The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC( has released its annual Targeting Scams Report, which reveals that over 90,000 Australians reported scams to the ACCC in 2013, with $89,136,975 million reported lost.
That is most likely just a fraction of the actual total, as very many are never reported. The ACCC hopes to increase the proportion that are reported, through National Consumer Fraud Week, which starts today.
The Australasian Consumer Fraud Taskforce, led by the ACCC, will be urging consumers to ‘know who you’re dealing with’ –reports indicate that scammers reap the benefits when they take the time to develop a connection with victims.
“The fifth annual scams report highlights that relationship scams cause the most significant emotional and economic harm to victims” ACCC Deputy Chair Delia Rickard said. “These scammers invest considerable time and effort deceiving you into a fake romance, a fraudulent business partnership or a complex investment scheme. Their ultimate aim is to build your trust so they can steal your personal details and money.
The ACCC received nearly 84,000 contacts in 2012, with $93 million reported lost. In 2013, dating and romance scams moved to the top of financial losses, with over $25 million reported lost. This is despite them making up only 3% of all scam reports to the ACCC.
“Sadly, 43% of people who reported being approached by a scam admirer also lost money, a decrease from previous years but nevertheless a high strike rate for scammers,” Rickard said.
“People should be particularly vigilant in asking themselves who they are really dealing with when they meet the person online. Scammers take advantage of the Internet to establish relationships behind a smokescreen, where they remain anonymous while connecting with people around the globe with the click of a button.”
Telephones continue to be the preferred delivery method for scammers (52%), but online scams caused the greatest financial harm ($42 million reported lost). “Earlier this year, the ACCC announced that disruption of relationship scams will be a compliance and enforcement priority area,” Rickard said.
“Raising awareness about how Australians can protect themselves is an important aspect of the work of the ACCC and this year we will undertake a targeted scams intervention project. The project will use financial intelligence to identify and warn suspected victims and is similar to Western Australia’s Project Sunbird, which has had some impressive results in preventing further scam losses.”
Rickard said a number of State Police and Fair Trading agencies continue to cooperate on scam disruption work, “but there is a need to look beyond what the government can do and reliance on law enforcement as a means of prevention. Preventing fraud is a shared responsibility between governments, industry and individuals alike.”
She said legitimate businesses such as telecommunications companies, banks, online dating service providers and money remittance agencies are often used by scammers to facilitate their fraud.
“Some businesses have realised that it makes good commercial sense to invest in fraud prevention systems as they can help to detect and disable scams before they reach their targets. All businesses should be considering how they can be proactive in taking effective steps to minimise the likelihood that they or their customers will fall victim to a scam,” Rickard said.
As part of Fraud Week, the ACCC is releasing a ‘Scam Identifier List’ to help Australians identify and disengage from a scammer online:
- You’ve never met or seen them: scammers will say anything to avoid a face-to-face meeting, whether it be in person or over the Internet via a video chat – don’t excuse it away.
- They’re not who they appear to be: scammers steal photos and profiles from real people to create an appealing facade. Run a Google Image search on photos and search words in their description to check if they’re the real deal.
- They ask to chat with you privately: scammers will try and move the conversation away from the scrutiny of community platforms to a one-on-one interaction such as email or phone – walk away if this happens to you.
- You don’t know a lot about them: scammers are keen to get to know you as much as possible, but are less forthcoming about themselves. Ask yourself: ‘how well do I really know this person?’
- They ask you for money: once the connection has been made – be it as a friend, admirer, or business partner – scammers will ask you to transfer money. Don’t fall for a tall tale, no matter how plausible it sounds.
The report and further information on National Consumer Fraud Week is available at www.scamwatch.gov.au