Australians lost a record $851-million-plus to scams in 2020, as scammers took advantage of the pandemic to con unsuspecting people. This is according to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s latest Targeting Scams report released today (Monday).
The study compiles data from Scamwatch, ReportCyber, other government agencies, and 10 banks and financial intermediaries. In total, it is based on more than 444,000 reports.
Investment scams accounted for the biggest losses – at $328-million – and made up more than a third of total losses. Romance scams were the next biggest category, costing Australians $131-million, while payment redirection scams resulted in $128-million worth of losses.
The real losses were probably even higher
“Last year, scam victims reported the biggest losses we have seen,” noted ACCC Deputy Chair Delia Rickard. “But … we expect the real losses will be even higher as many people don’t report these scams.”
“Unfortunately scammers continue to become more sophisticated and last year used the Covid-19 pandemic to scam and take advantage of people from all walks of life during this crisis.”
Of the $851-million in combined losses, $176-million were reported to ACCC’s Scamwatch website alone. (All losses described below are from Scamwatch data only).
“Victoria, which was significantly impacted by the second wave of the virus, recorded the highest losses nationwide for the first time and Victorians reported $49-million in losses to Scamwatch, more than double those in 2019.” Rickard said.
‘Sight unseen’ a common ruse for vehicle sales
“We saw scammers claiming the government restrictions meant people could not see items in person before purchase. This was a common ruse in vehicle sale and puppy scams, which both had higher reports and losses.”
As people spent more time online during the lockdown, reports and losses for various other scams also increased.
Health and medical scams increased more than 20-fold compared to 2019, accounting for over $3.9-million in losses. Losses to threat-based scams increased by 178 percent to $11.8-million, and there were more than $8.4-million in losses to remote-access scams, an increase of over 74 percent.
Phishing activity also thrived during the pandemic, especially through government impersonation scams. There were over 44,000 reports of phishing scams, representing a 75 percent increase.