The ACCC’s latest Targeting Scams report revealed that Aussies have lost more than $2 billion to scams in 2021.
Based on analyses of more than 560,000 reports, the ACCC compiled its latest Targeting Scams report with data collected from Scamwatch, ReportCyber, major banks, money remitters, and other government agencies. The ACCC found losses totalled almost $1.8 billion, but as one-third of victims do not report scams, the agency estimates actual losses from scams have hit well over $2 billion.
According to ACCC deputy chair Delia Rickard, scam activity continues to increase, despite government, law enforcement, and private sector disrupting scam activity, a record number of Australians lost a record amount of money in the last year.
"Scammers are the most opportunistic of all criminals: they pose as charities after a natural disaster, health departments during a pandemic, and love interests every day.
"The true cost of scams is more than a dollar figure as they also cause serious emotional harm to individuals, families, and businesses," Rickard said.
Investment scams were the highest loss category ($701 million) in 2021, followed by payment redirection scams ($227 million), and romance scams ($142 million).
Women reported the most scams, according to Scamwatch 2021 data, but men lost more money than women. Men's losses to investment scams were double women's losses. In culturally and linguistically diverse communities, women had slightly higher losses than men.
People aged 65 and over reported the highest losses, and reported losses steadily increased with age.
In 2021, Scamwatch received record levels of reports and losses from Australians that may have been experiencing vulnerability or hardship. People with disability made twice as many reports compared to 2020, and their financial losses increased by 102 per cent to $19.6 million.
The number of reports by Indigenous Australians increased by 43 per cent between 2020 and 2021, and reported losses increased by 142 per cent.
People from culturally and linguistically diverse communities experienced an 88 per cent increase in losses last year compared to 2020.
The increasing number of reports by people experiencing vulnerability, Rickard added, is a very worrying trend.
"Everyone from government, to banks, and digital platforms needs to do more to address this.
"The ACCC is particularly wanting banks to match payee information in pay anyone transactions.
"This has been shown to have a real impact in countries that have done so," Rickard said.
Scams are almost ubiquitous in Australia today according to ACCC researchers. Ninety-six per cent of respondents had been exposed to scammers in the previous five years, and 20 per cent had fallen victim. Of those who lost money, 56 per cent were unable to recover any of it.
In 2021, the ACCC increased its work with government agencies, domestic and international law enforcement, including major banks and telecommunications providers to share intelligence, disrupt scams and raise awareness in the community.
In 2021, the telecommunications sector's new Reducing Scam Calls Industry Code resulted in more than 357 million scam calls being blocked.
An international effort involving the Australian Federal Police led to the Flubot scam being stopped earlier this year.
"The public and private sectors have introduced a number of new counter fraud initiatives over the last couple of years, but there are still too many gaps in the system that scammers are able to exploit," Rickard said.
Scamwatch data shows that between 2020 and 2021, there was a 60 per cent reduction in losses from inheritance and unexpected money scams, and only 1 per cent increase in losses from travel, prizes and lottery scams, in comparison to increased losses from investment scams which rose 169 per cent over the 12 months.
"We have seen a marked decline in some of the older, low-end scams and an enormous increase in more sophisticated 'white-collar' fraud, such as cryptocurrency investment scams," Rickard said.
"There was a spike last year in scams relating to pyramid and Ponzi schemes, largely due to the emergence of some sophisticated Ponzi investment scam apps.
"If an investment opportunity seems too good to be true, we urge all Australians to not go anywhere near it," Rickard concluded.
People who detect a scam, whether or not they have lost money to it, can report scams and learn more about how to get help on the Scamwatch website.