More than 100 Australians have reported having their personal information stolen online each day this year, with a huge jump in scams due to the COVID-19 crisis.
To mark National Scams Awareness Week, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) and Victorian Government issued stark warnings and some stunning figures on the number of Australians hit by scams this year.
The ACCC’s Scamwatch has received 24,000 reports of stolen personal information this year, a 55 per cent increase from this time last year.
That’s more than 100 people each day having this personal information, such as bank or superannuation details or passwords, driver licence number, tax statements or Medicare cards, stolen.
“During the COVID-19 pandemic, with more people working and socialising online, we have unfortunately seen a sharp increase in scammers seeking personal information,” ACCC deputy chair Delia Rickard said.
“Personal information, such as bank and superannuation details or passwords, are extremely valuable and scammers will try to steal them for their own financial gain. Our increased use of technology has created more opportunities for them to do so.”
Often, the targeting of sensitive personal information is done by scammers so they can then impersonate the victim and gain access to their bank accounts, take out loans in their name or pretend to be them on social media to get money from their friends and family.
Phishing is the most popular method used by hackers to obtain this personal information, with this brand of scam up 44 per cent from last year.
The malicious actors will often pretend to be from government departments and businesses such as the Australian Taxation Office or Telstra to gain access to bank account details and other personal information.
“Scam victims who have lost personal information are vulnerable to further scams, fraud or identity theft,” Rickard said. “If you do have your identity stolen, it can take years to recover and people can end up losing more than money. Not only time in trying to undo the damage done financially, but it can also impact greatly on your mental health.
“Never give your personal or financial information to anyone you don’t know or trust via email, text, social media or over the phone.”
Australians have also reported having lost more than $22 million to scammers who stole this personal information, with those aged 25 to 34 the most impacted.
Nearly half of this came from Victorians, with $10 million scammed from people in the state just this year, more than the total amount in 2019 of $8.2 million.
Victorian Minister for Consumer Affairs Melissa Horne urged everyone to be more mindful online, to stop and think when they’re about to hand over personal details, not open unexpected attachments and find and verify information before giving out details.
“It’s appalling that anyone would use this situation to take advantage of someone, but we all need to do our part to protect our safety online,” Horne said.
“Our growing use of technology gives scammers more opportunities to trick you into giving away your personal information or financial information – people need to be careful and report any suspected scams to police.
“Identity theft is serious and can have long-term financial and emotional consequences….[and] it’s so important to be vigilant and know the warning signs.”
Towards the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Australian government agencies warned of a “significant increase” in virus-themed scams, with the Australian Cyber Security Centre reporting in April that two Australians per day had reported losing money or personal information due to a COVID-19 themed scam or online fraud.