Tens of thousands of Australians are being scammed each year, with dating and romance scams topping the list of financial losses for 2013, according to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC).The latest figures from the consumer watchdog show a 10 per cent spike in scam reports last year, as well as an alarming trend in phishing and identity theft.
The ACCC’s Targeting Scams Report says Australians lost $25 million to dating and romance scams.
But out of a total of 92,000 complaints received – amounting to losses of $89 million – just 2,777 related to dating and romance scams. The most complained about scam was advance fee-upfront payment scams, where consumers are typically asked to make a payment with their credit card to access a bogus refund, prize or other kind of reward.
ACCC deputy chairwoman Delia Rickard says the figures are only a small snapshot of how much money people are losing to scams.
“We talk to other agencies, and work is being done so there will be a central repository of all reported scams in Australia but that’s not in place just yet,” she told the ABC.
“So we know it’s significantly more than the $89 million that was reported to us.”
She says dating and romance scams are very concerning.
“I think scammers are learning that by forming a personal relationship and really putting effort into knowing their victim and forming those trusting bonds, that this is the market for them,” she said.”This is where they can get the biggest pay off. The majority we’re aware of are under fake profiles in online dating sites. We’ve done work with the dating and romance sites in terms of best practice guidelines on how they can kick the scammers off.
“Some sites seem to be better than others and we’re about to review all of this work and do another round of work with those sites so that they’re better at identifying scammers, keeping them away from the sites and also giving warnings to their members.”
More than 10 per cent of scam victims reported losing more than $10,000.
As people age they appear more likely to be victims. Scams were most commonly reported by people in the 45-to-54 age category, and the number of people aged 65 years and over who reported being scammed nearly doubled to 18 per cent.
Watch that phone
In line with a shift in recent years, 52 per cent of scams were delivered via phone and text message, with combined total financial losses of $29 million.
Ms Rickard says she is very concerned about the “huge increase” in phishing and personal identity theft.
“These can take all sorts of forms but usually it might be ‘fill in this survey and you could win a $50 voucher’ and you go to fill in the form and it will ask you for a range of private things with your name, age, address,” she said.
“It might ask for your credit card details so they can deposit winnings into it, Medicare numbers, passport numbers.
“What scammers do is they then use this information to impersonate you to open all sorts of accounts, run up debts in your name, drain your bank account.
“So people really need to learn the importance of that personal information and not give it out unless they’re absolutely clear about who they’re dealing with and it’s clear why that person will need that information.”
In 2012, the ACCC received about 84,000 complaints with total losses to consumers of of $93 million.
The report also found that scammers continued to favour sending ‘high-volume scams’, which involve targeting a large number of victims with requests for small amounts of money.
How the scam works
- You receive an email out of the blue from someone claiming to be from a reputable energy company, informing you that you owe money for 2013 energy usage.
- The email may appear to come from an official part of the energy company such as the ‘Accounts Payable’, ‘Receivable Department’ or the ‘Accounts Receivable Team’. The email may even have all the trademarks of a bill – it may state that it is a gas or electricity bill, and include a fake account number, account summary, billing period details and due date for payment. However, on closer inspection, the email may contain spelling and grammatical errors – a tell-tale sign that something is amiss.
- The email may claim that the reason for the outstanding amount is that you have exceeded your energy consumption limit. It may even claim that you are eligible to use a discounted energy tariff to pay the bill if you click on the link.
- The email directs you to click on an embedded link, attachment or zip file to access your account and view your statement, and then direct you to a money transfer service with instructions on how to pay the bill.
- If you click the link or attachment, your computer may be infected with malicious software and your identity compromised. If you transfer money, you’ll never see it again.
Note: you don’t have to be a customer of the energy company claiming that you owe them money to receive this email.
- If you receive an email out of the blue from someone claiming that you owe money for outstanding energy usage – just press ‘delete’.
- If you’re not sure whether an email is a scam, verify who they are by using their official contact details to call them directly. Never use contact details provided by the sender – find them through an independent source such as a phone book or online search.
- Watch out for tell-tale signs – whilst the sender may claim to be from an official source, their email may contain spelling mistakes or use poor grammar.
- Never click on links or open attachments in an email from an unverified sender – they may contain a malicious virus.
- Keep your computer secure – always update your firewall, anti-virus and anti-spyware software, and only buy from a verified source. If you think your computer’s security has been compromised, use your security software to run a virus check. If you still have doubts, contact your anti-virus software provider or a computer specialist.
- Never send money to someone you don’t know and trust – it’s rare to recover money from a scammer. If you think you have provided your account details to a scammer, contact your bank or financial institution immediately.
Do you know more?
Sources: ABC, Scamwatch