Older Australians bearing the brunt of fraudulent schemes, losing millions to scams

Apr 29, 2024
"Reports to Scamwatch indicate scammers are targeting older Australians with retirement savings, who may be looking for investment opportunities". Source: Getty Images.

Despite a promising decrease in reported losses, Australians continue to fall victim to fraudulent schemes, losing staggering amounts to scammers.

The latest Targeting Scams report revealed an encouraging 13.1 per cent decline in reported losses to $2.74 billion in 2023.

While this seems like a win in the battle against scammers, deeper analysis reveals an alarming reality: scam reports are on the rise, and certain demographics are bearing the brunt of these financial blows.

The report, compiled from data reported to Scamwatch, ReportCyber, the Australian Financial Crimes Exchange (AFCX), IDCARE, and ASIC, paints a complex picture of the evolving scam landscape in Australia. With over 601,000 scam reports flooding these organisations in 2023, a staggering 18.5 per cent increase from the previous year, the need for continued vigilance against fraudulent activities is evident.

Investment scams take the lion’s share of financial losses, totalling a whopping $1.3 billion, followed by remote access scams ($256 million) and romance scams ($201.1 million). While the overall decline in losses is a beacon of hope, emerging trends, such as increases in phishing scams, payment redirection scams, and job scams, demand swift and decisive action.

The impact on older Australians is particularly distressing. Individuals over the age of 65 experienced a 13.3 per cent increase in reported losses, totalling $120 million, underscoring the need for targeted interventions and enhanced protection measures.

Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) Deputy Chair Catriona Lowe said, “reports to Scamwatch indicate scammers are targeting older Australians with retirement savings, who may be looking for investment opportunities.”

“We know of a recent case where an elderly woman lost her life savings after seeing a deepfake Elon Musk video on social media, clicking the link and registering her details online,” Lowe revealed.

“She was assigned a ‘financial advisor’ and could see on an online dashboard she was apparently making returns, but she couldn’t withdraw her money.”

Contact methods favoured by scammers also reveal shifting patterns. While text messages remain the most reported contact method, with a staggering 37.3 per cent increase from 2022, scam calls inflict the highest reported losses, amounting to $116 million. Social media emerges as a potent tool for fraudsters, with reported losses reaching $93.5 million, a 16.5 per cent surge from the previous year. Amid these challenges, efforts to combat scams are gaining momentum.

Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) Deputy Chair Catriona Lowe commended “coordinated scam prevention, detection, and disruption initiatives”, which have contributed to the decline in overall losses

“We are optimistic that our combined efforts will continue to reduce scam losses. We will continue this important work because losses remain too high and behind the numbers are real people who have lost money, often every last cent, to scams,” Lowe said.

“That’s why we remain committed to ensuring there are no weak links for scammers to exploit. A Scams Code Framework with strong, mandatory and enforceable obligations on banks, telcos and digital platforms will be central to this.

“Good data and intel sharing is also key and we will be adding to the number of parties sending data into the National Anti-Scams Centre having made good progress on sending data out.”

The ACCC offers the following tips to avoid falling victim to scam activity:

STOP – Don’t rush to act. Scammers will create a sense of urgency.

THINK – Ask yourself if you really know who you are communicating with. Scammers can impersonate others and lie about who they are – especially online.

PROTECT – Act quickly if something feels wrong. If you have shared financial information or transferred money, contact your bank immediately. Help others by reporting to Scamwatch.

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