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Scam losses in Australia hit record high

Australians lost a record A$323.7m to scams last year, with investment and romance scams accounting for the bulk of their losses

Australians lost a record A$323.7m to scams last year, an increase of 84% compared with 2020, according to the latest figures from the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s (ACCC) Scamwatch.

Among the victims, New South Wales residents lost the most to scams during the year, reporting A$110m in losses, followed by Victorians with A$74m.

Investment scams were the most financially damaging, costing Australians a record A$177m in 2021. This was more than double the previous year, with the number of reports increasing by 32%.

Losses to investment scams also accounted for more than half of all money lost to scams in 2021. Australians aged over 65 were the most impacted, losing A$52m, while those aged 35 to 44 made the highest number of reports at 1,901.

Dating and romance scams were the second highest in terms of financial losses, with A$56m, up 56% compared with 2020. They were also one of the costliest scams, with 40% of all reports across the year resulting in money lost.

Phishing scams attempting to gain personal information received the highest number of reports in 2021, making up a quarter of all scams reported to the ACCC. Reports of phishing scams also grew significantly by 61%.

Money lost to phishing scams came primarily from phone calls, with this delivery method accounting for over half of all money lost. Queenslanders lost the most to phishing scams across Australia, reporting A$1.6m.

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Reports of malware and ransomware scams fell by 6%, but losses increased by more than tenfold to A$1.5m. Reports of hacking scams increased by three-quarters during the year, and remote access scams by 85%.

Crispin Kerr, vice-president of Proofpoint in Australia and New Zealand, said the data from the ACCC’s Scamwatch paints an unfortunate picture of how effective scammers were at taking advantage of Australians over the past 12 months.

He noted that the increase in losses to scams in 2021 is significant, and just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to understanding the true impact on Australians.

“The data shows scammers were extremely active in 2021 and we anticipate this will only increase as scammers continue to evolve and update their tactics,” he said. “Malicious actors will always follow the money, and we’ve seen that during the past year, SMS attacks have grown exponentially, because those actors discovered a trusting and captive audience ready to engage on the other end of the phone.”

Kerr urged people to remain vigilant against scammers, and mindful that if something sounds too good to be true, it most always is.

“Trust your gut, and if you are ever unsure if something is a scam, it’s best to be cautious, block callers and delete any messages you receive from them,” he said.

“If the scam appears to be from a legitimate organisation like Australia Post or the ATO [Australian Taxation Office], contact that organisation directly to let them know and report the scam to the ACCC.”

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