Australians lose almost $500 million to scams in 2018

Australians lose almost $500 million to scams in 2018

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.


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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Learn more about bank accounts

How do I open a new bank account?

There are a number of ways to open a new bank account – online, over the phone or in the branch. The trick is to decide what type of bank account you want beforehand.

It might sound like a simple enough task, but there are literally hundreds of bank accounts to choose from. And each offer their own banking features and benefits.

A comparison site like RateCity can help you work out what bank account product matches your needs.

Once you’ve made up your mind what you want, it’s advisable to have the following information ready for the application process.

  • A couple of forms of identification (such as driver’s licence, Medicare card, passport)
  • Tax file number
  • Residential address, contact phone number and email (though email is not essential)

Can I close a bank account with pending transactions?

You can close a bank account with pending transactions. But after the account is closed, any incoming transactions will be declined by your (old) bank.

The best way to ensure this doesn’t occur is to either wait to close your account until all pending transactions are complete, or contact the creditor and supply them with alternate bank details.

If you’re unsure whether you have any scheduled transactions, you can speak to a banking representative over the phone or via online support.

In most cases, your bank withholds the amount owing for pending transactions (such as online purchases).

Because the pending amount is deducted from your bank balance, you can close your bank account and the purchase will be honoured.

Can I find my bank account number online?

Yes, you can find your bank account number by logging into your online banking and clicking on the relevant account.

How do you open a bank account under 18?

If you’re under 18 and you want to open an Australian bank account, you will need your passport or birth certificate. (Some lenders might require just a Medicare card or driver’s licence.) You can apply online or at a branch. If you’re 13 or under, you will probably need a parent to accompany you to a branch.

How can I wire money to a bank account?

You can wire money to an Australian bank account either through your own bank or by using a money transfer company such as Western Union or MoneyGram. Either way, you’ll need the other person’s name, BSB number and account number. If you use a money transfer company, you might also need to provide the recipient’s address for large payments.

How can I find bank accounts in my name?

To find ‘live’ bank accounts in your name, you’ll have to ask individual lenders, which involves contacting them one by one and proving your identity each time. To find ‘unclaimed’ bank accounts (those that have been inactive for at least seven years), you can use this website.

How to transfer money to another bank account

Transferring money to another bank is often called a bank transfer, and it can be done a few different ways.

Customers generally need three pieces of information to transfer money to another bank account. Customers need the account name, BSB and account number of the account they wish to transfer money to.

One way of transferring money to another bank account is in a branch with the help of a staff member; they will often give you a receipt as well as confirmation of the transfer.

Transfers can be also made via internet banking and phone banking.

Some banks also allow customers to make transfers via partnered ATMs, especially if the account is with the same bank.

Can I close my bank account over the phone?

In most cases, you can close a personal or business bank account over the phone. In fact, this is the best way to ensure you’ve closed an account properly.

By speaking to a banking representative, you can capture and close out any pending transactions, or interest owing/payable on the account being closed.

In the instance where the account is a joint account, or you have multiple bank accounts you want to close, your bank may send you a form that you need to fill out and return.

Either way, you would be advised over the phone of the steps you need to take. Calling your bank ahead of closing an account is often a smart course of action.

Do you need a bank account to get a credit card?

To get a credit card, you need to show proof of income, which will almost certainly require you to have a bank account.

How long does it take to open a bank account?

The length of time it takes to open a bank account varies, depending on whether you want to open it online or in person.


Most banks and credit unions have simple online applications that usually take no more than 10 minutes to fill out. It can be especially fast if you have your identification documents like your driver’s licence and passport handy. Sometimes you will instantly be approved and the bank account opened. However, depending on the financial institution, it may take a day or so to be processed and your account number issued. Your account information and ATM or debit card will then be mailed to you, which usually takes between five to 10 days.

In person

If you decide to go into a branch or office to open a bank account, it may take about half an hour. Make sure you bring your identification documents with you. Also book an appointment if you can, otherwise you might be forced to wait in line. Sometimes your ATM or debit card will be issued on the spot, otherwise you’ll need to wait for one to arrive by mail, which usually takes between five to 10 days.

Can I have a PayPal account without a bank account?

You don’t need a bank account to send or receive money through PayPal. However, you do need a bank account if you want to withdraw money from your PayPal account.

How can I deposit cash into my bank account?

The traditional way to deposit cash into your bank account is to go to a branch and give it to a teller. These days, many banks will allow you to make deposits through an ATM as well.

How do you open a bank account in Australia?

Opening a bank account in Australia is usually a straightforward process. Some banks give you the option of opening an account online, while others require you to visit a branch.

Different bank accounts offer different features, so it’s best to compare your options to find one that suits you.

All banks require you to pass an identity check to open a bank account. Australia uses the 100-point identification system, which means you’ll need to show a number of forms of ID that, together, add up to 100 points.

Common ID types include a driver’s licence, passport, Australian visa in a foreign passport, and Australian Medicare card. You’ll find out what types of ID are accepted when you go through the sign-up process online or at a branch.

Once your account is open, you’ll be given or sent a debit card that you can use to make purchases and withdraw money from your account.

Can the government take your money from your bank account?

There are some instances when the government can take money from your bank account. This generally occurs in situations where you have an outstanding government debt.

Before it can take money from your bank account, the government authority owed money would first need to issue a garnishee notice. 

A garnishee notice is issued by the government agency (such as Centrelink or the ATO) to a third party that holds money for you or owes you money.

To take money from your bank account, your bank would be issued with the garnishee notice requiring it to pay ‘your money’ to the requesting agency to satisfy the debt.