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Australians lost a record $2 billion in scams last year

The ACCC says more than $700 million was lost in investment scams in 2021 and another $227 million in payment redirection scams, while romance scams resulted in losses of $142 million. An astounding 357 million scam calls were blocked by a new Scam Calls Industry Code.

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“Australians lost a record amount of more than $2 billion to scams in 2021, despite government, law enforcement and the private sector disrupting more scam activity than ever before,” according to the ACCC’s latest Targeting Scams report.

The report compiles data from Scamwatch, ReportCyber, major banks and money remitters, and other government agencies, and is based on analysis of more than 560,000 reports. “Reported losses to all organisations totalled almost $1.8 billion, but as one-third of victims do not report scams the ACCC estimates actual losses were well over $2 billion,” the report said.

Investment scams were the highest loss category ($701 million) in 2021, followed by payment redirection scams ($227 million), and romance scams ($142 million).

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  "The true cost of scams is
   more
than a dollar figure":
      Delia Rickard, ACCC

“Scam activity continues to increase, and last year a record number of Australians lost a record amount of money,” said ACCC deputy chair Delia Rickard. “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. 

Based on reports to Scamwatch in 2021, women reported the most scams but men lost more money than women, and 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. 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.

On a positive note, an international effort involving Australian Federal Police led to the Flubot scam being stopped earlier this year, and the telecommunications sector’s new Reducing Scam Calls Industry Code resulted in more than 357 million scam calls being blocked in 2021.

“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% reduction in losses from inheritance and unexpected money scams, and only a 1% increase in losses from travel, prizes and lottery scams. Conversely, losses from investment scams increased by 169 per cent over the 12 months.

Wide Format Online publisher Andy McCourt says: "We receive dozens of scam emails and phone calls with the scammers masquerading as bona fide companies and government departments. Our advertisers have even had emails purporting to be us, saying our bank account has changed and to pay into a new account. I discovered the extent of the deceipt when involved in used equipment sales and auctions - some even 'phishing' genuine equipment for sale and taking deposits to 'secure the item' and then disappearing with the money. They are cunning, unscrupulous and nasty, Sadly, the maxim 'Trust Nobody' needs to apply here. Verify, verify, verify the identity of the person contacting you. If it smells the slighest bit suspicious, block and delete, never click links or email back, even to tell them to go forth and multiply. If its genuine, the party will find another way of contacting you - like by post for example."

People who detect a scam, whether or not they have lost money, can report scams and learn about how to get help on the Scamwatch website at scamwatch.gov.au.