An innocuous search for a stock trading firm by investor Matt Cole led him to a professional and sophisticated forex website. He dealt with those people for four months, thinking they were from a genuine institution. But by the end of it, Cole had lost his hard-earned money to online scammers. Precisely this has been happening to victims worldwide for the past few years, and Australia is no exception when it comes to online scams. In 2021 alone, Australians have lost more than $236 million to scams. Although the most affected age group have been 65 and older, the latest figures suggest that persons aged 35 to 44 came second in the number of reports, followed by 25 to 34. However, increasingly younger age groups too are reporting huge losses, which show scams can impact people of all ages.
We need to understand scams could affect anyone. Data from the Scamwatch website run by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has shown how simply you could fall for a scam. Though banks and other institutions have become more sophisticated to secure their customers from scams, the scammers, too, have upgraded their technology. Moreover, the discovery of the flubot malware has shown how fast scammers can adapt their scamming techniques. The scams also vary from the impersonation of government agencies like the Australian Border Force to scammers posing as Australian Taxation Office officers claiming to refund taxes if victims provided their personal and financial details.
To put things in perspective, reports to Scamwatch in 2021 have gone up by 50 percent compared to the same period last year, which roughly translates to 242,000 reports. The $236 million loss mentioned earlier is an 87% increase from previous figures, and scams over the phone have gone up by 74%. However, most losses have been reported for investment scams amounting to $121 million, dating and romance frauds amounting to $39 million, false billing scams amounting to $13 million and remote access scams with a figure of $12 million. While the highest scams reported are phishing with 59,491 reports, threat-based scams come second, with identity theft coming third, respectively.
Hence, apart from cyber security, we should also create awareness about this situation. Victims mustn’t be embarrassed to speak out about their harrowing encounters; the more we discuss and share, the more challenging it is for the fraudsters to cheat innocent victims. Experts say a moment of carelessness can lead to clicking a phishing website or a scammer link, but if more people talk about their encounters, then others can be warned. To tackle this problem, around 350 participants from across government, private and community groups have come together to participate in Scams Awareness Week. This initiative encourages victims to come forward to talk about their experiences and have frank conversations because, in the larger context, the aim is to help people detect, prevent, and avoid these scams.