A nation of scammers: How we’ve been ripped off for $2.5 billion over the past decade

Australians have now lost about $2.5 billion to scams in the past 10 years with $634 million lost last year, according to consumer watchdog the ACCC.

Jun 22, 2020, updated Jun 22, 2020
One in four Australians admit to stealing online content in the past year. (Photo: Unsplash)

One in four Australians admit to stealing online content in the past year. (Photo: Unsplash)

There were about 350,000 scam cases reported to the ACCC, the banks and government authorities and social media scams were a huge growth area.

The list of scams were investment scams, dating scams, false billing, hacking, online shopping, remote access, identity theft, threats, classifieds and inheritence.

Businesses were the most targeted. Collectively, they lost about $132 million. People aged over 55 made up the most reported cases.

“Unfortunately it is another year with devastatingly high losses, and scammers are constantly finding new ways to defraud Australians,” ACCC deputy chair Delia Rickard said.

“This year we have included data from the big four banks which gives a more complete picture of how much people are losing to scams.”

This was followed by investment scams at $126 million, and dating and romance scams at $83 million.

Over the past 10 years the ACCC’s Scamwatch has received almost one million reports of scams.

“When we combine Scamwatch reports with partner data, we see that Australians have reported losing $2.5 billion over that time, which is astonishing,” Ms Rickard said.

“We know these numbers still vastly understate losses as around one-third of people don’t report scam losses to anyone and in the past far fewer scam reports to other agencies have been captured.”

“Some of these scams can last for months, or even years, and can leave victims financially and emotionally devastated.”

Based solely on reports provided to the ACCC in 2019, scams originating on social media increased by 20 per cent and contacts via mobile phone apps increased by 29 per cent.

“Over the last decade, scammers have taken advantage of new technologies and current scams are using social media apps and new payment methods that didn’t exist in 2009,” Rickard said.

“In particular, a new trend with dating and romance scams is scammers contacting the victim on social media apps or games which are not designed for dating, so it’s important to be aware that scammers can target you anywhere.”

Common techniques that scammers use to manipulate their victims include making exclusive offers that you don’t want to miss out on, or asking for small commitments, such as completing a survey, to make the victim more likely to comply with larger schemes.

“You can always say no, hang up the phone or delete an email, even if you’ve said yes previously. You don’t owe the scammer anything,” Rickard said.

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