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Gone Phishin’ – Scams on the rise in Australia

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A myriad of scams are on the rise in Australia - so how do you protect yourself?

According to a new scam statistics report published by Finder, Australians reported over 300,000 scam incidents in 2023, marking a 26% surge from the previous year. Drawing on data from ScamWatch and Finder's Consumer Sentiment Tracker, the research identifies the initial quarter of the year as the peak period for scam activities in 2023.

Most numerous scams

Phishing scams, characterised by fraudulent emails or calls pretending to be from legitimate financial institutions, are the most prevalent, with 68% of Australians encountering scam calls or texts, and 48% receiving fraudulent emails over the past year. Over 108,000 Australians have fallen victim to these scams, losing an estimated $26m.

False billing scams involve fake invoices for non-existent services or products, and are the second most prevalent with over 39,000 incidents reported and $28m lost. Online shopping scams, where a seller lists an item for sale that doesn't actually exist, come in third with
over 21,000 incidents reported but only $7m lost.

Identity theft operations, which can be as successful against security experts as they are against regular consumers, take fourth place, with almost 20,000 reports and $8.5m lost.

Most profitable scams

Most money, however, was lost to fake investment scams. These tend to promise investment returns that seem, and are, too good to be true, with almost $292m lost to these scams in 2023. Australians lost more to investment scams than all other scams combined.

Dating and romance scams come a distant second with $34m lost, while the aforementioned false billing ($28m) and phishing ($26m) scams rank third and fourth.

Men vs women

This is where the results get interesting. The scam victimisation rate is evenly distributed between genders, with people identifying as men and women accounting for an equal 49% of reports.

Certain scams, however, show gender-specific trends; men are predominantly affected by investment (63%) and dating (57%) scams, while women are more susceptible to online shopping (58%) and, surprisingly, psychic and clairvoyant (64%) scams. Whether all psychics and clairvoyants were considered scammers was not noted in the data.

How to avoid scams

This alarming rise in scam activities necessitates heightened awareness and proactive measures to protect oneself. Here are some tips to stay safe:

  • Never click on a link received in an email or a text message. Instead, log into the relevant company's site directly if you need to.
  • When shopping online, never give out your identity details - particularly your driver's licence. If this document is leaked to scammers and becomes compromised, it's notoriously difficult to get a new one.
  • Use strong, varying passwords for your online accounts. If you have lots of accounts, a password manager might be a good investment.
  • Make sure to regularly check your credit report online (for free) and monitor it for suspicious activity.
  • Set up a voice-biometric ID and additional secret question with the Australian Tax Office.

By fostering a culture of caution and collective vigilance, Australians can better defend against the sophisticated tactics employed by scammers, safeguarding their finances and leaving the scammers chasing ghosts.

Finder's Insights Column examines issues affecting the Australian consumer. It appears weekly on finder.com.au.

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