A new report by consumer watchdog ACCC details a year of “devastatingly high losses” to scammers – but there are several ways people can protect themselves. Here’s how.
A new report by consumer watchdog ACCC details a year of “devastatingly high losses” to scammers – but there are several ways people can protect themselves. Here’s how.

Online shoppers, daters, gamers targeted in scam surge

Scam losses by Australians soared 30 per cent last year to more than $634 million and consumers should brace for bigger losses in 2020 as COVID-19 fraudsters step up their attacks.

There has been an explosion of scams in 2020 exploiting the bushfire crisis and coronavirus pandemic, according to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission's latest Targeting Scams report.

Scammers are rapidly adapting their strategies and technologies, the report says, and now use online games for romance scams or social media for cryptocurrency investment scams. It is no longer easy to spot a scam through dodgy spelling in an unsolicited email.

ACCC deputy chair Delia Rickard said scammers had been cashing in on COVID-19 by impersonating government agencies and websites in including myGov, Services Australia and the Department of Health.

"They are doing perfect replicas … the easy clues are long gone and most of them are almost impossible to pick," she said.

ACCC deputy chair Delia Rickard. Picture: Supplied
ACCC deputy chair Delia Rickard. Picture: Supplied

The ACCC has seen a large spike in online shopping scams, and hundreds of thousands of dollars have been lost to puppy scams preying on people's loneliness by selling them pets which do not exist.

"We have seen a 43 per cent increase in scams in the first five months of this year versus last year," Ms Rickard said.

The Targeting Scams report tracks data from the ACCC's scamwatch.gov.au, other government agencies and now the major banks for the first time, which was a factor behind the 30 per cent rise.

It says there were more than 353,000 reports of scams last year, with the biggest losses coming from business email compromise scams ($132 million), investment scams ($126 million) and dating and romance scams ($83 million).

"We know these numbers still vastly understate losses as around one third or people don't report scam losses to anyone," Ms Rickard said.

She said she believed dating and romance scams were "the worst of them because they destroy people financially and emotionally".

These scams were previously limited to dating websites but spread to social media platforms, and now have infiltrated apps and online games such as Words With Friends.

"There is really nowhere you can be confident that you are not going to be approached," Ms Rickard said.

Global cybersecurity firm McAfee's online consumer and safety specialist, Alex Merton-McCann, said McAfee was observing tens of thousands of malicious links with references to coronavirus each week.

"The unfortunate truth is that cybercriminals rely on security becoming an afterthought for consumers going through periods of change and uncertainty, under stress or working towards time constraints," she said.

Ms Merton-McCann said consumers should "think before they click", have strong passwords, and beware of "fishy" URLs.

"Legitimate organisations will never email you from a public internet account such as Gmail or Hotmail," she said.

"One of the easiest ways a cybercriminal can get a hold of your financial data is through phishing texts or emails that trick unsuspecting consumers into clicking phony links."

Originally published as Online shoppers, daters, gamers targeted in national scam surge

McAfee’s Alex Merton-McCann. Picture: Supplied
McAfee’s Alex Merton-McCann. Picture: Supplied

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