Australians Lost Millions to Covid-19 Scams in 2020

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Australians lost more than $176 million to Covid-19 scams during the pandemic that hit the world in 2020. The most lucrative Australian scams were phishing scams involving phone calls and text messages. Consequently, the Australian Communications and Media Authority is introducing a new industry code to help safeguard Australians from phone scams.

More Money Lost than Ever Before

Scamwatch, a website run by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), recently reported on Covid-19 scams in Australia. According to Scamwatch, Australians lost more money than ever before in 2020. The cause of this rise has been attributed to Covid-19 scams that took advantage of Australians’ fears and curiosity about the pandemic.

Scams rose 28.8% in 2020 compared to 2019, with Australians losing $176.1 last year to scams. Furthermore, the most money was lost in the last month of the year. Although the worst of the pandemic was over in Australia by December 2020, $22.4 million was lost in this month alone. This was due to the increase in online sales leading up to the festive season.

The most lucrative scams for cybercriminals were phone scams, which netted them just under $50 million. The next most fruitful scams involved emails, which earned them around $35 million. According to ANZ vice-president of cybersecurity firm Proofpoint, Crispin Kerr, phishing scams involving phone calls and emails saw a 75% increase from 2019. He said: “As a tactic used by scammers, it’s not surprising to see that phishing was again so popular. It has a low entry barrier for cybercriminals with a high-value return.”

Kerr also stated that in 2020 many cybercriminals tailored their scams around Covid-19 developments. They tricked Australians into clicking links in emails and on the internet that purportedly provided news from the government regarding the pandemic. Indeed, internet scams were the next most fruitful scams followed closely behind by social networking scams.

New Industry Code to Protect Australians

In an attempt to stop phone scams, the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) is introducing a new industry code. The code concentrates on the three most profitable Australian phone scams. These are phone calls or texts claiming to come from the Australian Taxation Office (ATO). This is also the most common phone scam in Australia.

The other two involve international numbers. In the first scam, a scammer dials the number of their victim, but immediately hangs up. This leaves a missed call on the phone, which encourages the victim to call back at greatly inflated prices. The other are just international scams that rely on victims giving away personal information to cybercriminals who then sell it on to others on the dark web or use it themselves.

The new industry code places the emphasis on telecommunication companies to fight phone phishing in Australia . The code requires these companies to identify scam callers and publish information on scammers for customers’ information. Telecommunication companies also need to share information on scam callers with their competitors. This will hopefully make everyone more aware of the scams that are out there and their evolving nature.

If telecommunication companies don’t identify, trace and report these scammers, they can be liable for a $250,000 fine. In addition, the new industry code requires these companies to report scammers to the authorities. The authorities then intend to track these cybercriminals to try and prosecute them.

How to Stop Falling Victim to Scams

As always, experts’ recommendations involve not opening attachments or clicking links in odd emails. In addition, they recommend not taking phone calls at face value and never disclosing sensitive or financial information in response to unsolicited communications.

“As we enter 2021, with promising news of vaccine rollouts taking place, we would advise people to remain vigilant against these types of phishing attacks as scammers will follow the news-cycle closely to adapt their tactics and lures to topical themes,” Kerr said.

With ATO phone scams, ACMA advises individuals not to give personal details to people calling or texting from the ATO. That is unless the individual has called the ATO themselves.

Information technology expert
Grace is an information technology expert who joined the VPNoverview team in 2019, writing cybersecurity and internet privacy-based news articles. Due to her IT background in legal firms, these subjects have always been of great interest to her.