Australians lost a whopping $850 million to scammers in 2020 – the largest ever amount in a single calendar year.

The sobering figure was published in the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s (ACCC) annual ‘Targeting Scams’ report.

ACCC deputy chair Delia Rickard said the amount sadly doesn’t even fully cover the dollar amount of scams.

“Last year, scam victims reported the biggest losses we have seen, but worse, we expect the real losses will be even higher, as many people don’t report these scams,” she said in a statement.

“Unfortunately, scammers continue to become more sophisticated and last year used the COVID-19 pandemic to scam and take advantage of people from all walks of life during this crisis.”

Australians made around 444,000 reports of scams to various government agencies and banks last year while losses reported to the ACCC’s Scamwatch service were up 23 per cent on 2019.

Scammers took advantage of last year’s crises, beginning with the summer bushfires which saw fake charities popping up to scam well-meaning people out of their money.

Then the outbreak of COVID-19 provided new ways for scammers to trick people.

Victoria, which suffered through the country’s longest lockdowns, copped it the most and reported to Scamwatch losses doubling those of 2019.

“We saw scammers claiming the government restrictions meant people could not see items in person before purchase,” Rickard said.

“This was a common ruse in vehicle sale and puppy scams, which both had higher reports and losses.”

Investment scams were by far the most profitable for scammers with people reporting average losses over $26,000 from what they thought were legitimate investment opportunities.

“We saw more fraudulent celebrity endorsements of investment opportunities advertised across digital platforms as well as scammers posing as romance interests to ‘bait’ people into scam investments,” Rickard said.

The amount of phishing attacks increased last year with victim reports increasing by 75 per cent.

While bank transfers continue to be a common way for scammers to get their money, they are also increasingly relying on bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies because of what the ACCC described as the “perceived anonymity of unregulated cryptocurrencies”.

Scammers have also been targeting Chinese Australians with so-called ‘authority scams’ with callers claiming to be Chinese law enforcement demanding payment to avoid arrest.

The ACCC shared a story of one man who got a call from scammers pretending to be from a logistics company who said the man had sent an “illegal parcel” to Shanghai and was in trouble with the local police.

Pretending to then be the Shanghai police, the scammers told the man they had issued a warrant for his arrest and there was only one way to avoid it: send all the money from his Australian accounts to China so the police could check the money.

The man ended up losing $150,000 to the scammers.

If you spot a scam, report it to Scamwatch and help get the word out so other people can be informed and avoid falling prey to scammers.