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Screenshot of a breaking news alert e-mail from Q2 2017
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has reported that Australians lost more money to scammers in 2017 than in any other year since the ACCC began reporting on scam activity.
According to the ACCC’s ninth annual Targeting scams report released today, more than 200,000 scam reports were submitted to the ACCC, Australian Cybercrime Online Reporting Network (ACORN) and other federal and state-based government agencies in 2017.
Total losses reported were $340 million – a $40 million increase compared to 2016.
This is the first time reported losses to scams have totalled more than $300 million and demonstrates the increasing impact of scams on Australians. Investment scams topped the losses at $64 million, an increase of more than 8 per cent. Dating and romance scams caused the second greatest losses at $42 million.
Binary options scams appear to have peaked in 2016 according to the ACCC, and reduced in number of reports and in reported losses in 2017. Despite this, the average loss reported in binary options scams increased by 24%, from $32,744 to $43,085 which suggests that while there were fewer of them, these scams became more effective at extracting large sums of money from victims. While binary options are not illegal in Australia, there are a number of very professional looking websites usually operated from overseas offering binary options investments that are outright scams.
“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,” ACCC Deputy Chair Delia Rickard said.
“Some scams are becoming very sophisticated and hard to spot. 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.”
Scamwatch received almost 33,000 reports of these threat-based impersonation scams in 2017. Over $4.7 million was reported lost and more than 2800 people gave their personal information to these scammers.
“These scams can be very frightening. For example, scammers will impersonate the Australian Taxation Office and threaten people with immediate arrest unless they pay an outstanding tax bill. They may pretend to be from Telstra to try to hack into your computer or from Centrelink promising extra payments in return for a ‘fee’,” Ms Rickard 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,” Ms Rickard said.
“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.”
The full ACCC report on Targeting Scams for 2017 can be seen here (pdf).