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Major scam warning as Aussies lose $323 million

A woman looks frustrated looking at her computer screen and Australian currency is fanned out.
Aussies lost a record amount to scams in 2021. (Source: Getty)

It has been a record year for scams after Australians lost a whopping $323 million in 2021, which is an increase of 84 per cent from the previous year.

Almost a quarter of those losses ($81 million) were felt by people aged 65 and older, according to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s (ACCC) Scamwatch.

There were 286,608 reports made to Scamwatch in 2021, up from 216,086 in 2020.

Crispin Kerr, ANZ vice-president at cybersecurity company Proofpoint, said the Scamwatch data painted an unfortunate picture of just how effective scammers were at taking advantage of Australians over the past 12 months.


“The 84 per cent increase in losses to scams in 2021 is significant and is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to understanding the true impact on Australians,” he said.

“Based on the numbers for December, during the holiday season, people can become desensitised to receiving numerous advertising links for shopping deals and the like and may not think twice about opening a dangerous file or clicking a suspicious link.”

Kerr said the data showed scammers were extremely active in 2021 and he anticipated this would only increase as scammers continued to evolve and update their tactics.

“Malicious actors will always follow the money and we’ve seen that during the past year, SMS attacks have grown exponentially, because those actors discovered a trusting and captive audience ready to engage on the other end of the phone,” Kerr said.

“It is critical for consumers to remain vigilant.”

Most common scams

Across 2021, investment scams were consistently the most financially damaging type of scam, costing Australians a record $177 million from 9,663 reports.

The amount lost in 2021 was more than double the previous year, while the number of reports increased by 32 per cent, year on year.

Losses to investment scams also accounted for more than half of all money lost to scams in 2021.

Dating and romance scams were the second highest in terms of financial loss, netting $56 million, up 56 per cent compared to 2020.

They were also one of the costliest scams, with 40 per cent of all reports across the year resulting in money lost.

Social networking sites were the biggest single source of money loss for these scams, recording $22 million.

Phishing scams - attempting to gain personal information - received the highest number of reports in 2021, making up a quarter of all scams reported to the ACCC.

Scams relating to threats to life or arrest disproportionately impacted younger Australians, with those aged 18 to 24 accounting for the highest losses at $3.3 million.

“The best thing to remember when it comes to scams is that if something sounds too good to be true, it most always is,” Kerr said.

“Trust your gut and if you are ever unsure if something is a scam it’s best to be cautious, block callers and delete any messages you receive from them.”

Unknown incoming call
It's important to ignore and block calls from potential scam numbers. (Source: Getty) (fongfong2 via Getty Images)

How to avoid being scammed

Here are the top tips from ProofPoint to avoid being the victim of a scam:

  • Use strong passwords: Don’t reuse the same password twice. Consider a password manager to make your online experience seamless, while staying safe.

  • Avoid unprotected WiFi: Free/open WiFi is not secure. Cybercriminals can intercept data transferred over unprotected WiFi, including credit card numbers, passwords and more.

  • Dodge phishing attacks: Phishing emails lead to unsafe websites that gather personal data. Watch for SMS phishing too – aka “smishing” – or messages through social media.

  • Verify before you buy: Fraudulent ads, websites and apps can be hard to spot. When downloading a new app or visiting an unfamiliar site, take time to read customer reviews.

  • Don’t click on links: Go directly to the source of advertised deals by typing a known website address directly in the browser. Enter offer codes at checkout to see if they are legitimate.

  • Watch out for “lookalikes”: Attackers create “lookalike” sites imitating familiar brands. These sites may sell counterfeit (or non-existent) goods, be infected with malware or steal credentials.

“If the scam appears to be from a legitimate organisation like Australia Post or the ATO, contact that organisation directly to let them know and report the scam to the ACCC,” Kerr said.

“As scam activity increases into the new year, we urge Australians to learn how to protect themselves and their loved ones from potential scams, and to be extremely cautious.”

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