Australians lost an estimated $2 billion to scams in 2021, according to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s (ACCC) annual Target Scams report.
The 2021 losses were more than double the $850 million reported in 2020 and, as ACCC Deputy Chair Delia Rickard notes, the cost of scams goes beyond lost money.
“It leads to emotional stress and can have life-changing consequences for many individuals, families, and businesses,” she said.
“Worryingly, some of the more vulnerable members of the community are reporting increasingly high losses.
“Indigenous Australians, older Australians, people from culturally and linguistically diverse communities and people with disability are losing far more than ever before.”
Investment scams were the biggest single category for last year's losses with over $700 million heading into scammer’s pockets.
The cryptocurrency bull run was a particularly ripe source of revenue for scammers who took at least $99 million from Australians through fake wallet apps, by stealing their seed phrases, or by remoting into their devices after offering to help the uninitiated buy crypto.
People aged 65 and over lost the most money ($26.5 million) to crypto scammers, followed by the 45-54 age group ($19.6 million).
Ponzi schemes also rose in 2021 as scam investment apps proliferated.
One app called Hope Business, launched in May last year, encouraged users to ‘invest’ cash into the app which would pay dividends when users completed small in-app tasks and games.
At first, users could withdraw money, so they began encouraging friends and family to sign up, but eventually their money was locked.
People reported a total of around $400,000 in losses to the ACCC which contacted Google and Apple to get the app removed from their stores.
“If an investment opportunity seems too good to be true, we urge all Australians to not go anywhere near it,” Rickard said.
Remote access scams were also on the rise last year, resulting in $112 million of losses.
One woman was fleeced of $400,000 in a scam that began with a call from a scammer pretending to be an NBN security expert.
He told the woman she needed to download software on her computer to secure her bank accounts and convinced her to move her savings into cryptocurrency.
The scammer helped the woman create a series of accounts on cryptocurrency exchanges, buy the crypto, and then access her email to bypass verification and walk away with her money.
Scammers are becoming more effective at targeting culturally and linguistically diverse communities who saw an 88 per cent uptick in the amount of money lost to scammers last year compared with 2020.
Rickard described it as a “worrying trend” and said the broader Australian community needed to work together to stop scammers.
“Everyone from government, to banks, and digital platforms needs to do more to address this,” she said.
“The ACCC is particularly wanting banks to match payee information in pay anyone transactions. This has been shown to have a real impact in countries that have done so.”