Australians bear record losses from scams, with big jump in phishing hacks

Scams ACCC report

Australians lost a record $3.1 billion to scams last year, with a 469 per cent year-on-year increase in losses from phishing scams alone, new figures from Australia’s competition regulator (ACCC) reveal.

The 2022 figures represent an 80 per cent increase on the total monetary losses recorded in the previous calendar year – covering scam reports made to the ACCC’s Scamwatch, ReportCyber (the ACSC’s primary cybercrime reporting arm), the Australian Financial Crimes Exchange (AFCX), IDCARE and other government agencies, including the Australian Taxation Office and Services Australia.

Losses experienced by each victim rose by more than 50 per cent last year, to an average of almost $20,000.

In total, Australia’s scam reporting agencies received more than half a million reports from victims.

However, the ACCC believes there is significant underreporting by scam victims, with previous research from the regulator revealing a little over one in 10 scam losses are being reported to Scamwatch, its scam reporting and information arm.

More than 30 per cent of people do not report scam losses at all, the ACCC added.

“We are of the view that actual scam losses in 2022 are more likely to be well above the combined losses of $3.1 billion,” the ACCC said in its Targeting Scams 2022 report.

Indeed, while Scamwatch alone saw a year-on-year 16.5 per cent drop in received scam reports, financial losses from these scams jumped by a record 76 per cent over this period, totalling more than $569 million.

Of the eight reporting agencies, Scamwatch, unsurprisingly being the most well-known consumer scam reporting services, was in recipt of the most scam reports, totalling more than 239,000. The Australian Financial Crimes Exchange (AFCX), a financial and cyber-crime investigation service founded by Australia’s big four banks, came next, receiving 144,000 reports (with victims reporting $1.1 billion in total losses), while IDCARE, a support service for cybercrime victims received more than 21,000 reports (totalling $258 million in losses).

The vast majority (66 per cent) of losses reported, totalling $377 million, were the result of investment scams – these include an array of “fake financial opportunities”, such as fake initial stock or coin offerings, brokerage services, or investments in online trading platforms.

Alongside investment scams, false billing ($24 million), phishing ($24 million) and remote access scams ($21 million) also featured among the top five scams by monetary losses reported to Scamwatch.

Phishing & remote access scams taking toll

Phishing scams, Scamwatch’s “most reported scam”, proved particularly effective last year, with financial losses from these scams increasing by 469 per cent on 2021 figures – from the $4.3 million reported in 2021 to $24.6 million in 2022.

Reports of phishing scams to Scamwatch increased by 4.6 per cent.

According to the ACCC, most phishing scams were delivered via text message (38,481 reports). Text-based phishing scams also had the highest reported losses, totalling $8.8 million.

While phone-based phishing scam reports decreased by 46 per cent, to 16,790, there was an increase in reported losses to $8.5 million, the ACCC reported. Email phishing scam reports also increased 50.8 per cent in 2022.

Most phishing scam saw victims paying through bank transfer, with $20.1 million reported lost.

Susceptibility, particularly among older Australians, to remote access scams remains high – despite an overall 24.9 per cent drop in reports to Scamwatch, for a total of 11,792 reports.

Reported losses from remote access scams – which sees imposters gaining remote access to victims’ computer or devices – increased 32.6 per cent to $21.7 million in 2022.

“According to Scamwatch data, the average remote access scam victim is likely to be a woman aged 65 or over, living in NSW. She will usually receive a phone call while at home and be scared or tricked into providing remote access to her device or computer,” the report wrote.

Why the drop in reporting?

The ACCC attributed the overall 16.5 per cent year-on-year decrease in scam reports to both the success in Government and industry-led anti-phone scam schemes, as well as growing consumers apathy towards an influx of phone and text scams to which they are now accustomed.

“In 2022 phone scam reports decreased 55.9 per cent from 144,603 received in 2021 to 63,821 in 2022. This coincided with the implementation of the Reducing Scam Calls and SMS Code which requires telecommunications providers to monitor and block scam calls.

“It also reflected the work undertaken by law enforcement and regulators here and internationally to stop the Flubot phone scams which had led to significant increases in phone scam reports in 2021.”

The regulator added: “There may also be some apathy in reporting due to the often-daily contact that Australians receive from scammers, particularly via text message. Decreases in reporting may suggest that it is more normal for Australians to receive contact from scammers, and they may be less likely to report them if they have not fallen victim to a scam.”

The ACCC was quick to note that “phone was the only contact method that decreased in 2022”.

“All other contact methods increased in reports.”

Australians more exposed than ever

The ACCC also noted Australians’ increasing exposure to scams as a direct result of several large-scale, high-profile data breaches over the last year – including the Optus, Medibank, and most recent Latitude Financial incidents.

“Scammers are the most opportunistic of all criminals,” said ACCC deputy chair Catriona Lowe. “Unfortunately, the more information a scammer has about you, the more convincing they can be.”

“In the weeks after the data breaches, there were hundreds of reports to Scamwatch, including reports of scammers impersonating government departments and businesses to carry out identity theft and remote access scams.”

“Unfortunately, there are still significant gaps between and within the key sectors – banks, telcos and digital platforms; and between regulators that scammers exploit to steal money from customers. So we would like to see initiatives that apply across the sectors, knowing that scammers will target the weakest link.”

The ACCC, she added, continues to advocate for a three-pronged approach to tackling scams.

“First, we need to stop scammers reaching consumers by disrupting phone calls, SMS, email, social media messaging or other ways in which scammers contact would-be victims.

“Second, we need to make sure consumers are supported with up-to-date information so they have the best chance of spotting a scammer when contacted.

“Finally, we need effective measures in place to prevent funds being transferred to scammers,” Lowe said.