Australians lost a record $323 million to scams in 2021

Australians lost a record $323 million to scams in 2021 – that’s up a massive 84 per cent from the previous year according to the latest figures from the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s Scamwatch.

This is a huge jump from 2020 when Australians lost $175.6 million.

And there were 286,608 reports made to Scamwatch in 2021 that’s up from 216,086 from the previous year.

Investment scams topped the list as the most damaging and cost Australians a record $177 million from 9663 reports.

The amount lost in 2021 was double the previous year with the number of reports also increasing by 32 per cent year on year.

These investment scams accounted for more than half of all money lost to scams in 2021 with Australians aged over 65 the most impacted – losing $52 million.

Phishing scams which tried to coax personal information from users received the highest number of reports in 2021 and made up a quarter of all scams reported to the ACCC.

Phishing scams also increased year on year by 61 per cent.

Money was lost to phishing scams primarily through phone calls which accounted for over half of all money lost.

Other notable scams included employment and job scams which more than doubled in 2021 and resulted in losses of $2.6 million.

Malware and ransomware scams actually decreased by 6 per cent yet losses increased tenfold to $1.5 million.

Older Australians suffered the most from scams in 2021 with those aged over 65 accounting for $81.9 million, that’s a quarter of all money lost during the year.

This age group also had the highest number of reports with 46,282 followed by 35 – 44-year-olds with 43,526.

“The data from the ACCC’s Scamwatch paints an unfortunate picture of just how effective scammers were at taking advantage of Australians over the last twelve months,” says Crispin Kerr, ANZ vice president at cyber security company Proofpoint.

“The 84 per cent increase in losses to scams in 2021 is significant and is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to understanding the true impact on Australians.

“Based on the numbers for December, during the holiday season, people can become desensitised to receiving numerous advertising links for shopping deals and the like and may not think twice about opening a dangerous file or clicking a suspicious link.

“The data shows scammers were extremely active in 2021 and we anticipate this will only increase as scammers continue to evolve and update their tactics.

“Malicious actors will always follow the money and we’ve seen that during the past year, SMS attacks have grown exponentially, because those actors discovered a trusting and captive audience ready to engage on the other end of the phone. It is critical for consumers to remain vigilant.”

Overall men lost more in scams throughout the year at $190 million compared to $131 million for women.

The phone was the most popular delivery method for scams in 2021 and amassed 144,601 reports – that’s half the total number of all scams reported in 2021.

Text messages also came through as the second most reported scam in 2021 and overtook email scams for the first time.

Social networking scams also increased in 2021 with losses up to $56 million, that’s up from 27 million in 2020.

“In 2021 scammers continued to leverage the global pandemic, state-wide lockdowns and remote working to their benefit,” Kerr added.

“Investment scams stand out for inflicting the most significant financial damage on Australians, with older Australians unfortunately the most impacted.

“Investment scams can seem very attractive, and scammers can come across as legitimate in their promise of financial gain through the purchase of shares, funds, cryptocurrency or other high returns.

“However, the reality is that these get-rich-quick schemes enable scammers to steal personal and financial information to siphon funds for their own gain.

“Scammers also utilised social engineering particularly during lockdowns when people were at their most vulnerable to steal millions from Australians in dating and romance scams.

Tips to avoid being scammed:

  • Use strong passwords: Don’t reuse the same password twice. Consider a password manager to make your online experience seamless, whilst staying safe.
  • Avoid unprotected Wi-Fi: Free/open Wi-Fi is not secure. Cybercriminals can intercept data transferred over unprotected Wi-Fi, including credit card numbers, passwords and more.
  • Dodge phishing attacks: Phishing emails lead to unsafe websites that gather personal data. Watch for SMS, phishing too – aka “smishing” – or messages through social media.
  • Verify before you buy: Fraudulent ads, websites and apps can be hard to spot. When downloading a new app or visiting an unfamiliar site, take time to read customer reviews.
  • Don’t click on links: Go directly to the source of advertised deals by typing a known website address directly in the browser. Enter offer codes at checkout to see if they are legitimate.
  • Watch out for “lookalikes”: Attackers create “lookalike” sites imitating familiar brands. These sites may sell counterfeit (or non-existent) goods, be infected with malware or steal credentials.

“The best thing to remember when it comes to scams is that if something sounds too good to be true, it most always is,” Kerr says.

“Trust your gut and if you are ever unsure if something is a scam it’s best to be cautious, block callers and delete any messages you receive from them.

“If the scam appears to be from a legitimate organisation like Australia Post or the ATO, contact that organisation directly to let them know and report the scam to the ACCC.

“As scam activity increases into the new year, we urge Australians to learn how to protect themselves and their loved ones from potential scams, and to be extremely cautious.”

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