Phishing scams were at a record high in September with Australians losing more than $250,000 through these attacks, according to the competition watchdog.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has released its monthly statistics on the number of phishing scams reported and the amount lost through these attacks.

September had the highest number of phishing scam reports since the ACCC started releasing the stats in 2017, with 5,421 attempted scams.

That’s a nearly 30 per cent increase from August, which saw 4,221 reports of phishing scams.

The money lost from these scams was also at near-record highs, hitting $268,440, only behind the amount lost in November 2018.

This was a sharp increase of 75 per cent from the previous month, which saw $153,585 lost to scammers.

Phishing scams were overwhelmingly most likely to be conducted via the phone, while a large number of attempts were reported as being conducted through text messages even though barely any money was lost via that method.

Of all the phishing scams reported, just over 1 per cent led to financial losses.

Of these, Australians aged 35 to 44 were most likely to have lost money, while those older than 65 years old reported the most attempts.

The highest number of scams were reported by people in New South Wales and Victoria, but the most money was lost by Queenslanders.

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has presented significant opportunities to scammers, according to Proofpoint ANZ area vice-president Crispin Kerr.

“In a continued trend that we’ve seen throughout 2020, these latest ACCC stats show that phishing scams are continuing to rise at an alarming rate and are now at an all-time high,” Kerr said.

“The opportunity COVID-19 has presented to scammers is undeniable and reflected by the rise in reports and sums lost.”

And it’s not only those less savvy on the internet or in older age groups that can fall victim to these scams, Kerr said.

“It is important that people remain vigilant and aware of the rise in phishing scams, even as the country continues to manage the impact of COVID-19 and embarks on the road to recovery for many sectors,” he said.

“The stats show that scammers don’t discriminate and they target people in all age groups, especially those in their prime earning years as well as older generations, so everyone should be aware that it could happen to them.”

There were more cyber attacks in the first six months of this year than in all of 2019, according to a report released last month.

This was partly due to the quick transition to remote working as a result of the coronavirus pandemic creating an “ever-increasing attack surface for motivated adversaries”.

As early as March, scammers were capitalising on the pandemic and using COVID-19 as bait to trick unsuspecting victims via phishing attacks.

The Australian Cyber Security Centre has reported that as many as two Australians per day are falling victim to a COVID-19-themed cyber scam.

There has also been a significant increase in ransomware and business email compromise scams since the onset of the pandemic, according to the Commonwealth Bank of Australia, and businesses of all sizes have been hit.