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Australians lose a whopping $323 million to scams in 2021, up 84% from the previous year

Australians lost a record $323.7 million to all types of scams in 2021 according to the latest figures from the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s (ACCC) Scamwatch. This represents a significant increase of 84% compared to 2020 when Australians lost $175.6 million. There were 286,608 reports made to Scamwatch in 2021, up from 216,086 the previous year.

December recorded the greatest monthly losses with $43.2 million, while August had the highest number of scams reported with 40,874. New South Wales residents lost the most to scams across the year, reporting $110 million in losses, followed by Victorians with $74 million, which also reported the most scams with 92,117 and Victorians with 74,597 respectively.

Crispin Kerr, ANZ vice president at cybersecurity company Proofpoint commented: “The data from the ACCC’s Scamwatch paints an unfortunate picture of just how effective scammers were at taking advantage of Australians over the last twelve months. The 84% 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. 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. The data shows scammers were extremely active in 2021 and we anticipate this will only increase as scammers continue 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. It is critical for consumers to remain vigilant.”

YearAmount lostYoY changeNumber of reportsYoY changeReports with financial losses
2019$142.7167,79511.80%
2020$175.623.1%216,08628.8%10.60%
2021$323.784.3%286,60832.6%8.90%

Top 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% YoY. Losses to investment scams also accounted for more than half of all money lost to scams in 2021. Australians aged over 65 were the most impacted, losing $52 million, while those aged 35 to 44 recorded the highest number of reports at 1,901.

Dating and romance scams were the second highest in terms of financial loss, with $56 million, up 56% YoY. They were also one of the costliest scams, with 40% 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. New South Wales residents reported the greatest losses to dating and romance scams, at $15.9 million, and the largest number of reports with just over 1,000 across the year.

Phishing scams attempting to gain personal information received the highest number of reports in 2021, making up one quarter of all scams reported to the ACCC. Reports of phishing scams also significantly increased YoY by 61%. Money lost to phishing scams came primarily from phone calls, with this delivery method accounting for over half of all money lost. Queenslanders lost the most to phishing scams across Australia, reporting $1.6 million.

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, and 25-to-34-year old’s the greatest number of reports with 5,528. Victorians suffered the highest losses from these scams at $4.8 million.

Top 10 Scams – Money lost 2021Top 10 Scams – Number of Reports 2021
Investment$177,184,295Phishing71,299
Dating and Romance$56,175,428Threats to life or arrest32,425
False billing$17,303,665Identity theft22,354
Remote access scams$16,412,258False billing21,545
Threats to life or arrest$11,077,551Online shopping scams20,694
Identity theft$10,159,930Remote access scams15,697
Online shopping scams$8,074,469Hacking15,141
Classified scams$7,114,830Investment scams9,663
Phishing$4,324,128Classified scams9,560
Hacking$3,041,484Prize and lottery scams4,428

Other notable scams included losses to job and employment scams, which more than doubled in 2021 to $2.6 million, while losses to identity theft scams increased threefold to $10 million. Reports of malware and ransomware scams decreased by 6% but losses increased exponentially by more than ten-fold to $1.5 million. Reports of hacking scams increased by three quarters during the year, and remote access scams by 85% YoY.

Demographics

Older Australians suffered the greatest losses in 2021, with those aged over 65 amassing $81.9 million, a quarter of all money lost during the year. Australians aged over 65 also had the highest number of reports with 46,282, followed by Australians aged 35 to 44, with 43,526. Men lost more to scams throughout the year, reporting $190 million in losses (58%) compared to $131 million for women (40%). This was also higher than in 2020, where losses for men and women were 50% and 49% respectively. 

Delivery method

Phone scams were the most popular delivery method in 2021, amassing 144,601 reports, half of the total number of all scams reported in 2021. Text messages scams emerged as the second most reported scam in 2021, overtaking email scams, although they were one of the least profitable accounting for only 3% of money lost. Phone scams caused the most financial damage with losses exceeding $100 million, while social networking scams increased to $56 million in losses, up from $27 million in 2020. 

2021Amount lost (millions AUD)No. of reportsShare of money lostShare of no. of scams
Phone$100,289,113144,60131%51%
Mobile Applications$36,154,0166,54311%2%
Social networking$56,102,810       10,14017%4%
Internet$51,945,09412,50216%4%
Email$48,345,64740,17515%14%
Text message$10,099,88667,1803%24%
In person$18,186,3151,7736%1%
Mail$2,314,3542,2181%1%

“In 2021 scammers continued to leverage the global pandemic, state-wide lockdowns and remote working to their benefit. Investment scams stand out for inflicting the most significant financial damage on Australians, with older Australians unfortunately the most impacted. Investment scams can seem very attractive, and scammers can come across as legitimate in their promise of financial gain through the purchase of shares, funds, cryptocurrency or other high returns. However, the reality is that these get-rich-quick schemes enable scammers to steal personal and financial information to siphon funds for their own gain. Scammers also utilised social engineering particularly during lockdowns when people were at their most vulnerable to steal millions from Australians in dating and romance scams.

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

Tips to avoid being scammed:

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

Appendix

StateAmount lostNumber of reports
NSW$110,080,19092,117
VIC$74,288,96974,597
QLD$58,559,25252,052
Overseas$23,870,4854,308
WA$22,175,13025,416
SA$19,363,36920,334
ACT$7,088,5009,414
TAS$4,417,7235,346
Not supplied$2,290,143254
NT$1,589,9562,770
Amount lost and number of reports by state.

Age GroupAmount lostNumber of reports
Under 18$366,5921,984
18 to 24$12,784,97314,833
25 to 34$40,357,63839,953
35 to 44$47,845,13443,526
45 to 54$57,615,06338,892
55 to 64$58,997,02137,642
Over 65$81,915,44546,282
Amount lost and number of reports by age group.

The TBN team is a well establish group of technology industry professionals with backgrounds in IT Systems, Business Communications and Journalism.

Editorial Team
Editorial Team
The TBN team is a well establish group of technology industry professionals with backgrounds in IT Systems, Business Communications and Journalism.

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