The most damaging are investment scams ($66.4 million lost). Dating and romance scams were next ($37.2 million lost), followed by false billing ($18 million), threats to life or arrest ($11.5 million) and online shopping ($8.4 million).
Phishing – the fraudulent practice of sending emails pretending to be from reputable companies in order to induce a person to reveal personal information, such as passwords and credit card numbers – was again the most prevalent type of scam, but in much higher numbers than in 2019.
Consumers reported a total of $48 million lost on illegitimate phone calls and $34 million via emails.
Particularly common scams are fraudsters pretending to be government agencies providing information on COVID-19 via text messages and emails.
A scam of choice was the distribution of unsolicited emails from fake government agencies offering to help with applications for financial assistance or payments for staying at home. The emails contained malicious links and attachments designed to steal personal or financial information.
Losses reported from classified websites, including Facebook Marketplace and Gumtree, also increased by 60 per cent last year to $4.5 million. Major online shopping scams included the purchase of shoes, mobile phones, computers and toys.
Scamwatch has warned consumers that scammers may pretend to have a connection with you, so it is important to check, even when you are approached by what you think is a trusted organisation.
Crispin Kerr, vice-president of cyber security firm Proofpoint, says the big rise is in phishing scams.
Scammers are becoming far more sophisticated, he says, and are using social engineering to convince people to click on links or open attachments by playing on people’s fears relating to COVID-19.
Kerr warned that you should never click on links or attachments from people you do not know. You should also never disclose sensitive financial information in response to unsolicited emails.
“We advise people to remain vigilant against these types of phishing attacks, as scammers often follow the news cycle closely and adapt their fraud tactics and lures to topical themes,” he says.
Phishing emails are relatively easy to create, require little technical knowledge and depend solely on a user clicking on them to succeed. “They have a low entry barrier for cyber criminals with a high-value return,” Kerr says.
If you have been caught out by a scammer or need more information, visit scamwatch.gov.au
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