Scams and Their Cost to Australians

Have you ever fallen for an investment scam? How about a consumer or romance scam? If you haven’t, good on you! However, a lot of people aren’t so lucky.

Particularly vulnerable are those over the age of 55, but regardless of your age, falling victim to a scam, especially online, is a very real possibility.

Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) analysis of data reported to Scamwatch and the Australian Cybercrime Online Reporting Network (ACORN), together with losses detected through scam disruption work, estimated losses in excess of $229 million in 2015.

The losses reported to ACCC’s Scamwatch alone equated to $85 million, which is $3 million more than the previous year – that’s some serious cash!

Of the 49,500 reports of losses to the ACCC, almost 20,000 of them were over the age of 55. This equates to more than $21 million.

Pretty much every figure listed here is more than most people could even dream of seeing in their lifetime. For example, if you were to make $50,000 a year and you worked for the next 50-years, you would only make $2.5 million, and that’s not including deductions for tax and whatnot.

But exactly how much money do the scammers get out of this? if we’re losing anywhere up to $229 million, it’s safe to assume these dodgy characters are experiencing some serious financial gains!

Online dating scammers, on average, make up to $8,000 from each target. In 2015, there were eight people who lost more than a cool million each.

That’s one hefty payday for those involved.

These romance and dating scams make up less than 3.7 per cent of reports but equate to 56 per cent of the overall losses.

According to the ACCC deputy chair Delia Rickard, scammers generally fall into two distinct categories.

“There’s the mass-volume, low-gain scam, where the losses tend to be in the hundreds, and then you’ve got the more sophisticated scams like the investment scams and romance scams,” she said.

A small business owner, Melissa Testa, told ABC News she was scammed when she was sent a fake invoice.

“When I went back to the main screen everything was black, and it was normally blue, and there was writing behind all the icons and it said ‘you have been held to ransom, you need to pay Bitcoins that are $375 US dollars and we will restore all your files, and that was it really.”

After numerous unsuccessful attempts to fix her computer, she eventually resigned to paying the ransom. Given her situation, it’s really not surprising that the easiest solution was to just give them what they wanted. Her computer held valuable business information that she desperately needed access to. Under the same circumstances most people would do the same thing.

The likelihood of falling victim to a scam may seem relatively low, but the prevalence is high enough to prove that we’re not necessarily immune. You should always take care when opening emails from unknown senders, especially attachments, and always use spam filters.

Most of all, if your gut tells you something doesn’t seem legit, it’s probably not.