Cost of scams up 43 per cent in 2018: ACCC

Australians lost nearly half a billion dollars to scammers in 2018 according to the latest figures from the ACCC.

The consumer watchdog on Monday released its Targeting Scams report, which put the total combined losses reported last year to Scamwatch, the Australian Cybercrime Online Reporting Network (ACORN) and other government agencies at $489 million.

That is $149 million, or 43 per cent, more than the cost of scams in 2017, Delia Rickard, deputy chair of the ACCC, 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,” Rickard said in a statement.

Investment scams are the most financially devastating, the ACCC said, representing $86 million in losses, followed by dating and romance scams, which cost Australians $60.5 million in 2018.

Online shopping scams – where scammers set up fake websites, offer products at very low prices via fake ads on eBay, classified sites, Instagram and Facebook, and accept payment but don’t actually provide any product – cost more than $3.3 million.

Businesses lost more than $60 million to scammers who hacked into their email systems and impersonated key personnel requesting changes to bank account details.

Retailers warn customers to be on lookout for scams

Reports of scammers impersonating the ATO surged 900 per cent in November 2018, indicating a concentrated campaign to scam as many Australians as possible, the ACCC said.

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

Rickard noted that scammers are increasingly asking for money via iTunes cards, Google Play cards and cryptocurrencies to avoid the anti-scam measures employed by banks and money laundering detection systems.

Retailers including Woolworths Supermarkets have issued warnings to customers to be on the lookout for scammers sending text messages and emails that appear to be from Woolworths and demand payment for supposed debts via gift card, or promise vouchers in exchange for sharing personal information under the guise of participating in surveys.

“Whilst the sender is leveraging the Woolworths Brand, they are acting completely independently, making it difficult for us to block on behalf of our customers,” Woolworths wrote on its website, where it detailed the various scams targeting its customers.

“We hope this awareness will help ensure that in future you can recognise the signs of scams, and identify legitimate loyalty offers we distribute to our customers.”

More than 378,000 scam reports were submitted to Scamwatch, ACORN and other government agencies in 2018, the ACCC said.

The watchdog said it would like to see social media platforms and telecommunications providers do more to limit the ability of scammers to connect with victims.  

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