Monday, 29 April 2019 11:17

Scammers rob half a billion dollars from Australians: report

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Australians lost almost half a billion dollars to scammers in 2018, with investment scams the most financially devastating at $86 million, an increase of more than 34% compared with 2017, according to a newly published report.

The latest figures in the Saamwatch report by the competition watchdog, the ACCC, reveal that dating and romance scams also represent significant losses, increasing from $42 million in 2017 to $60.5 million in 2018.

“Total combined losses reported to Scamwatch and other government agencies exceeded $489 million – $149 million more than 2017,” ACCC Deputy Chair Delia Rickard said.

“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.

“These extraordinary losses show that scammers are causing significant financial and emotional harm to many Australians.

“Scammers are adapting old scams to new technology, seeking payment through unusual methods and automating scam calls to increase their reach to potential victims.”

In 2018, more than 378,000 scam reports were submitted to the ACCC’s Scamwatch, the Australian Cybercrime Online Reporting Network and other federal and state-based government agencies such as the Australian Taxation Office.

And in late 2018, many thousands of Australian households were hit with automated phone calls from scammers impersonating the ATO and threatening arrest for unpaid taxes.

In November, reports of the ATO scam increased more than 900%, indicating the scammers were engaged in a concentrated campaign to scam as many Australians as possible, the ACCC notes.

“Scammers are using pressure and fear tactics combined with technology to trick people into parting with their money,” Rickard said.

“Scammers increasingly ask for money via iTunes cards, Google Play cards and cryptocurrencies to avoid the anti-scam measures employed by banks and money laundering detection systems.”

The ACCC report reveals that Australian businesses are also being targeted by sophisticated "business email compromise scams" with reports of losses to Scamwatch and other agencies exceeding $60 million in 2018.

According to the report, scammers are hacking businesses’ email systems and impersonating key personnel in emails. They request changes to regular bank account details so that money is transferred to the scammer’s account instead of where it should normally go. Many businesses are caught off guard because the emails appear genuine.

“The ACCC has been working with banks, financial intermediaries and online classified sites to disrupt scams, but this year we, along with the ACMA and ACSC, would also like to see social media platforms and telecommunications providers doing more to limit the ability of scammers to connect with victims,” Rickard said.  

Rickard says the ACCC encourages people to visit Scamwatch to report scams “so we can warn others about them and learn more about what to do if they’re targeted by scams”.

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Peter Dinham

Peter Dinham is a co-founder of iTWire and a 35-year veteran journalist and corporate communications consultant. He has worked as a journalist in all forms of media – newspapers/magazines, radio, television, press agency and now, online – including with the Canberra Times, The Examiner (Tasmania), the ABC and AAP-Reuters. As a freelance journalist he also had articles published in Australian and overseas magazines. He worked in the corporate communications/public relations sector, in-house with an airline, and as a senior executive in Australia of the world’s largest communications consultancy, Burson-Marsteller. He also ran his own communications consultancy and was a co-founder in Australia of the global photographic agency, the Image Bank (now Getty Images).

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