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Australians lost half a billion dollars to scammers – how to avoid becoming a victim

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Scammers tricked Australians out of almost half a billion dollars in 2018 after more than 378,000 scams were reported – an increase of 44 per cent over the losses reported in 2017.

These alarming figures were revealed during Scam Awareness Week in the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) 10th annual Targeting Scams report.

And the concern is the scammers are becoming even more sophisticated and posing as trusted institutions like banks, the tax office and popular retailers in phishing scams

Some scammers are so bold that they pose as friends, work colleagues and even family members using what’s called “plausible deception” by cyber criminals who seem genuine and extremely persuasive.

More recently the myGov tax scam resulted in the ATO receiving 6,444 reports of tax return scams within the month of June alone.

These scams direct victims to fake websites or log-in pages where you are asked to enter your details to claim a refund.

This harvested information is then used by scammers to commit credit card fraud, tax fraud and identity theft.

A total of $489.7m of combined losses were reported to Scamwatch, ACORN and other government agencies.

The top scams by loss were investment scams ($38.8m), dating and romance ($24.6m), false billing ($5.5m), threats to life or arrest ($3.3m), online shopping scams ($3.28m), hacking ($3.1m), lottery and prize claims ($2.75m), betting and sport investments ($2.69m) and classified scams.

Another classic scam is the tech support call where scammers impersonate the police and ask for access to a victim’s computer.

Consumers aged over 55 have been hardest hit with total losses of $24.6m with men losing more money than women.

The most popular scams that men fell for involved investments while dating and romance scams hit women the hardest.

Phone scams topped the list of contact methods at 46.9 per cent followed by email (23.2 per cent), text message (14.4 per cent) and social media (3.8 per cent).

The average loss reported to Scamwatch was a staggering $5997 – an decrease of 6.7 per cent over 2017.

Here are some of the most popular scams and what you can do to protect yourself:

IDENTITY THEFT

Scammers access your private information through either phishing emails and text messages, fake online quizzes and surveys or by hacking your email and other online accounts.

They can also gain access to your identity by requesting a social media connection.

Once scammers have enough information about you they will be able to purchase expensive goods in your name, drain your bank account and even open bank accounts and take out loans.

They can also use this information to transfer phone numbers and other contracts, transfer your superannuation and contact your friends on social media while impersonating you.

The best way to combat this is to secure your letterbox and online accounts and set up two factor authentication.

The other way is to recognise the value of your personal information and protect it.

ONLINE SHOPPING SCAMS

It is common for scammers to create fake shopping websites and advertise products that don’t even exist.

They then offer products at remarkably low prices which are advertised via fake ads on eBay, classified sites and social media sites like Instagram and Facebook.

Victims think they are buying these goods and send payment but they receive nothing.

And to make matters worse, the scammers also try to use your payment and shipping details for identity theft.

To protect yourself, remember if the price seems too good to be true it nearly always is and do a thorough search and study of a site before deciding to make a purchase and even check if there are any comments or reviews.