The banking sector has seen a significant increase in financial crimes targeting customers since the onset of the pandemic, with Australians losing millions of dollars.

According to the Customer Owned Banking Association (COBA), scammers are becoming more sophisticated, creating believable scenarios that can be hard to detect.

“This can have devastating consequences for ordinary Australians, eroding hard-earned savings and derailing financial plans.

Not all scams can be stopped before they reach you, so everyone has a role to play in halting cyber-criminals in their tracks,” COBA CEO Michael Lawrence said.

The warning comes as this week’s Scam Awareness Week gets underway, with a message urging people to speak up about being a victim of scams to raise awareness.

It’s been revealed around one third of people who are victims of scams don’t tell anyone, so the true numbers on victims and financial loss are probably much higher.

In 2020, Australians made more than 216,000 reports to Scamwatch, recording losses of around $178 million.

In worsening news, by the end of this September, people had lost even more – recording more than 226,000 reports with reported losses of over $222 million.

This year there has been a wide variety of scams, with scammers continuing to find inventive ways to impersonate government agencies, such as Australian Border Force, Australian Taxation Office and Australian Federal Police.

The emergence of the Flubot malware scam – which hides in text messages about missed calls, voicemails or deliveries – has continued to evolve into different variants throughout the year, as scammers quickly adapt their scams.

Since August 2021, there has been a large number of variants of the Flubot text messages seen in Australia after first emerging overseas, with Scamwatch recording 16,000 reports of this type of fraud by early October.

“Scammers adapt and in a moment of inattention, it is unfortunately all too easy for even the most careful person to click on a message or fall for another type of scam. But your experience can help warn others to be even more careful,” said Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) Deputy Chair Delia Rickard.

Business email compromise scams target organisations

Scams that target small businesses, which accounts for a huge proportion of businesses around the country, have also been on the rise.

In June 2021, IDCARE experienced a 34 per cent increase in demand for its frontline case management services, and has created a cyber health check service for businesses that want to evaluate their scam protections.

Businesses should continue to be wary of scammers using the COVID-19 pandemic to target them, often targeting small business owners as they recognise that they are busy and may have limited resources to keep systems safe, the Australian Securities and Investment Commission (ASIC) has warned.

ASIC said businesses are vulnerable to phishing emails that impersonate government departments or trusted businesses, fake invoices issued after business email compromise, and supply scams such as fake payment for COVID-19 vaccines or fake vaccine certificates.

Business email compromise, also known as payment redirection scams, cost $128 million in 2020, the ACCC found in its annual report, and is one of the top three scams that includes investment and romance scams.

For businesses, scams inflict reputational damage, financial loss, and loss of productivity.

The government’s ‘Be COVID Fraud Aware‘ guide explains how to avoid these scams and the Australian Banking Association has a business scams guide with information on e-invoicing and safe payee identification.