Last year, Australians lost more than $2 billion to scams according to the consumer and competition watchdog’s 12th annual Targeting scams report, with the threat of cryptocurrency investment scams and through social media platforms surging.
In 2021, Australians reported almost $1.8 billion in scam losses to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s (ACCC) Scamwatch, the federal government’s ReportCyber, 12 financial institutions, and other government agencies. Of the organisations included in the report, Scamwatch received the most scam reports while ReportCyber received the largest total value of reported losses.
The ACCC estimates that the total value of scams to be beyond $2 billion when accounting for one third of scam victims who do not report their losses. The greatest source of losses was through investment scams, which includes cryptocurrency investment scams, accounting for $701 million of scam losses. Losses due to cryptocurrency investment scams grew by 270 per cent in 2021 to $99 million.
Scammers are also increasingly requesting scam payments be made in cryptocurrency, with the value of total Scamwatch reported losses paid in cryptocurrency up by 217 per cent to $84 million. The cryptocurrency category replaced the Bitcoin category in ACCC reporting in Macrh 2022.
Ransomware and malware scams reported to Scamwatch totalled losses of $1.2 million, an increase of 1,482.2 per cent. Scams originating through social networking and online forums reported to Scamwatch increased by almost 107 per cent.
In the report, ACCC deputy chair Delia Rickard said that regulators must continue to work with industry against scammers.
“There is, sadly, no case to relax our efforts as we are in the equivalent of an arms race with scammers constantly finding new ways to get around disruption efforts,” Ms Rickard said.
“Without these reports all the good work that has occurred could not have been done. We know that most people are unable to recover the money lost but the experiences that are shared assist us across all the work we do.
“It is only through our combined efforts that we can make a real difference to this enduring problem. By sharing information, collaborating to increase awareness of scams, innovating to disrupt scammers and fixing the systems or processes that scammers seek to exploit we can make Australia a harder target for scammers, prevent loss especially to the vulnerable and improve the outcomes of those who have experienced harm from scams.”
The combined loss of Scamwatch reported scams in 2021 due to remote access, online shopping, phishing, and hacking was $31 million, or 9.56 per cent of losses.
Scams initiated through phone calls accounted for 50 per cent of reports made to Scamwatch with total reported losses increasing by 108 per cent. The second most frequent contact method for scammers was through text messages. Of the remaining reported scams, 14 per cent were through email, 4 per cent through the internet, and 4 per cent through social networking or online forums.
The average loss reported to Scamwatch was $12,742 with overall reported losses up by 84 per cent since 2019, to $324 million. The largest total losses were reported by those aged 65 and older who made up 20.7 per cent of the Scamwatch reported losses and 27.3 per cent of the reports filed.
Reports filed by men accounted for 59 per cent of the Scamwatch reported losses in 2021, at $190 million but made around 3,500 less scam reports than women. The total value of scams reported by women to Scamwatch was $130 million.
The ACCC also undertook a survey in 2021 as a part of the report and found that women were more likely to lose their identity or personal information when scammed while men were more likely to lose larger amounts of money.
Data on scammers has been shared by the ACCC with 32 other countries since 2021 through the United States Federal Trade Commission Consumer Sentinel Network. Since 2017, the ACCC has been sending daily Scamwatch reports to Facebook, when the platform is involved, for them to take action.
In March 2022, the ACCC initiated court proceedings against tech giant Meta over its hosting of misleading cryptocurrency scam advertisements.
Between March 21 and May 27, the federal government was seeking consultation on the implementation of licences for digital currency exchanges and custody requirements for crypto assets.
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