Australians lose almost $500 million to scams in 2018



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The ACCC has reported a staggering increase in the amount of money lost by Australians to scammers this year, as we all just hug our credit cards and bank accounts a little tighter. How can you help avoid getting fleeced?

There’s a new report out, and it suggests Australians are losing big time from scammers, be it those using email, social, or just good old regular phone calls.

Released this week by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), “Targeting Scams” highlights the Australian activity of scams in the past year, informed partially by the ACCC’s Scamwatch website, which receives reports from the general population on scams being perpetrated.

This year’s report highlights not just the type of scams we’re falling for, but the sheer amount of money lost in the past year, which counts in the hundreds of millions.

Scammers target every demographic

No age group is safe from scammers, it seems, with the ACCC report revealing that every age bracket succumbed to scams in 2018.

While the majority of scams appeared to incur serious losses for those aged 45 and higher, younger people were also filing reports with the ACCC, and just over $170,000 was lost from people under the age of 18.

The most popular types of scams centre around investments and romance, and while each work differently, the result is still the same: people lose money from something that is promised but never delivered.

Men and women are both being hit by the scams, so no one is safe, though they’re also losing money to scams in different ways. While men are more likely to be affected by investment scams, women were more affected by dating and romance scams, with each seeing a loss well into the tens of millions of dollars on either side ($29.1 million in 2018 for men in investment scams; $19.5 million in 2018 for women in dating and romance scams).

And it’s happening everywhere in Australia, with every state seeing reports of scams and losses, with some targeting specific demographics.

One new scam that kicked off last year was specifically focused on people who spoke Mandarin. Called the “Chinese Authority scam”, it left phone messages in Mandarin that would suggest a package had been left or the authorities were calling, with this conversation kickstarting the scamming process.

It’s not the only new scam, as the ACCC has seen a twist on an old favourite.

We’ve all likely had someone pretend to be from Microsoft or the phone company calling to tell us that our computer has been hacked, but now scammers are using the guise of the police to hammer that message through, to keep you on the line, to gain access to your computer and have you send money that you will “later on be reimbursed for”.

But like all scams, it’s just another lie, and one you shouldn’t trust lest you want to become another statistic.

Scams

The statistics on Australians being scammed

The savings account of every Australian may well feel under threat lately if the ACCC’s Scamwatch scam stats are anything to go by.

We’re losing over $30 million to scams over the phone, $25 million to scams over email, $15 million to scams initiated over social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram, and even $2 million in SMS.

In 2018, 177,516 reports were made to Scamwatch, and while $107 million was reported in losses to Scamwatch, up 18 per cent from the previous year, the combined reported financial losses from Scamwatch, ACORN, and other government agencies totalled $489.7 million.

And the losses are coming from various scam types, including $86 million from investment scams, $60.5 million from dating scams, while other scams rack up millions of dollars including fraudulent online shopping, betting scams, and even threats to your life or suggestions of arrest.

Tips to stay safe with scams

So how do you stay safe as scammers come out swinging, looking for seemingly any way possible to rid you of the treasure lurking in your savings account?

Check everything

Scams are all about tricking you, and this can happen when you don’t think about what’s happening.

You might get an SMS or a phone call, and it might sound remarkably believable. If a message comes from the ATO or a phone call from the police, you might not normally question it, but in these examples, it might be best to.

If the Australian Taxation Office sends you a message, call the ATO using the phone number on its website and find out whether it was real. Likewise, if the police call you to use your computer as a way of tracking scams, call your local police department (don’t call 000, as that’s for emergencies), and ask whether anything like this is going on.

The same is true if you’re sent an email or a website from a company you think is legitimate: check the email address or website URL carefully. If it doesn’t seem right, it probably isn’t, and you can discard it immediately and move on with your life.

Question everything

It doesn’t seem like much, but raising a question is like raising a red flag, and could be the very thing that saves you money in the end.

If someone is trying to pull the wool over your eyes, ask you or them questions and see if the answers make sense.

Did you see a cute online advertisement talking about a foolproof way to make money, or maybe one selling a phone or a pair of shoes at an unbelievably low price?

Ads like these are known to ensnare people, and if you think to ask a question like “how” or “why”, you might not get caught.

If someone keeps asking you for money, work out whether that’s the sort of thing a real person would do, particularly one you’ve never met before.

Your close friends probably wouldn’t do that, so why would a new friend?

Remember there’s no such thing as a free lunch

It’s nice to win prizes and get things for free, but the price of free is normally more than what the word would suggest.

“Free” is rarely that, and if you’re offered something too good to be true, it’s always worth questioning whether it could be.

It’s a whole lot better than just becoming yet another number and another statistic.

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