Targeting scams: report of the ACCC on scam activity 2017

21 May 2018

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s (ACCC) ninth annual report on scams activity in Australia highlights the continuing financial and emotional harm caused by scams on Australian consumers and businesses. This report seeks to inform the public on scam losses in 2017 and identify emerging trends and techniques employed by scammers to extract money and personal information from their victims.

In 2017, the ACCC, Australian Cybercrime Online Reporting Network (ACORN) and other government organisations such as the Australian Taxation Office received over 200 000 scam reports with reported losses exceeding $340 million, an increase of $40 million over 2016 losses. The ACCC received over 161 500 scam reports with $90.9 million in financial losses which represents an eight per cent increase in reported losses over 2016. These increasing losses unfortunately demonstrate the continuing harm caused by scams on the Australian public.

One of the most concerning trends of 2017 was the significant money Australians reported lost to investment scams. Losses to investment scams reported to ACORN and the ACCC exceeded $64 million in 2017. Investment scam losses reported to the ACCC increased from $23.6 million in 2016 to $31.3 in 2017, a 33 per cent increase. Analysis of investment scam reports did not reveal any particularly new techniques used by investment scammers suggesting the same tricks used in previous years remain effective. More high-value losses to investment scams were also reported to the ACCC in 2017. In 2016, there were seven reports with losses of $400 000 or more whereas in 2017, there were 20 such reports. This pushed up the average reported loss for investment scams in 2017 to $53 827 from $46 980 in 2016.

Combined losses reported to the ACCC and ACORN for dating and romance scams were over $42 million. Losses reported to the ACCC for these scams actually decreased by 19 per cent to $20.5 million from $25.5 million in 2016. However, the combined loss figure of $42 million is the same amount that was reported in 2016. This is significant for a scam which has seen continual increases in reported losses year after year. While stagnation is preferable to an increase, dating and romance scams still caused a concerning degree of financial and emotional damage to many Australians seeking a romantic relationship.

The most commonly reported scams to the ACCC in 2017 were phishing, identity theft and false billing scams. Reports to the ACCC indicated these scam types all increased in reported losses which surpassed $4.6 million in 2017. However, the true cost of these kinds of scams are often not felt right away as the scammer’s primary aim is to obtain personal and banking information for future use. The ACCC received over 55 000 reports of these kinds of scams in 2017 and there is little doubt that many more were encountered but not reported. The ACCC received reports of scammers creating convincing copies of the websites and account log-in pages of many major retailers and service providers hoping to trick consumers into entering their account or banking information. From here, scammers hacked bank accounts, email addresses and even engaged in mobile number porting to get around two-step authentication processes. These reports serve as a reminder that personal and business information is a target for scammers and a gateway to our money and should be defended with robust and vigilant information security practices.

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