Australians lost a record amount of more than $2 billion to scams in 2021, according to a new report from the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission (ACCC).
The Targeting Scams report, which compiles data from Scamwatch, ReportCyber, major banks and money remitters, was based on an analysis of more than 560,000 scam reports.
While the reported losses from scams totalled almost $1.8 billion, the ACCC estimated actual losses exceeded $2 billion because one-third of victims did not report scams.
“Scam activity continues to increase and, last year, a record number of Australians lost a record amount of money,” ACCC deputy chair Delia Rickard said.
“Scammers are the most opportunistic of all criminals: they pose as charities after a natural disaster, health departments during a pandemic, and love interests every day."
However, Rickard emphasised that the “true cost” of scams was more than the amount of money lost.
“They also cause serious emotional harm to individuals, families, and businesses,” she said.
Investment, payment redirection and romance scams report highest losses
Investment scams were the highest loss category, with Aussies losing $701 million to these scams, which often involve promises of big payouts, quick money or guaranteed returns.
“There was a spike last year in scams relating to pyramid and ponzi schemes, largely due to the emergence of some sophisticated ponzi investment scam apps,” Rickard said.
“If an investment opportunity seems too good to be true, we urge all Australians to not go anywhere near it."
Payment-redirection scams were the second-highest category at $227 million, followed by romance scams, which were responsible for the loss of $142 million.
Based on reports to Scamwatch in 2021, women reported the most scams but men lost more money, with men losing $190 million, compared to women who lost $131 million. $2 million was lost by people of non-specified gender.
People aged 65 and over also reported the highest losses, and the reported losses steadily increased with age.
When it came to the top contact methods, phone scams accounted for half of all scams, followed by text, email, internet and social networking.
Scammers increasingly targeting vulnerable Australians
However, perhaps the most concerning trend was the record levels of reports and losses from Australians that may have been experiencing vulnerability or hardship.
People with disabilities made twice as many reports compared to 2020, and their financial losses increased by 102 per cent to $19.6 million.
“The increasing number of reports by people experiencing vulnerability is a very worrying trend. Everyone from government, to banks, and digital platforms needs to do more to address this,” Rickard 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.”
More than half of scam victims unable to recover lost money
The ACCC’s report showed scams were on the rise in Australia, with 96 per cent of all respondents having been exposed to scammers in the past five years.
Shockingly, 56 per cent of people who lost money to scams reported they were unable to recover any of it – meaning Aussies needed to be vigilant.
In 2021, the ACCC increased its work with government agencies, domestic and international law enforcement, and major banks and telecommunications providers to share intelligence, disrupt scams and raise community awareness.
Last year, the telecommunications sector’s new Reducing Scam Calls Industry Code resulted in more than 357 million scam calls being blocked.
People who detect a scam, whether or not they have lost money to it, can report scams and find out how to get help on the Scamwatch website.