Figures from the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s latest Targeting Scams report released in June, show that scammers collectively stole close to AU$34 million from people who identified as culturally and linguistically diverse, a person with a disability, or Indigenous Australian.
Scammers Take Advantage of Crisis
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC)’s latest Targeting Scams report provides insight into scam activity in 2020, a year in which Australia battled an intense bushfire crisis, followed by floods and, along with the rest of the world, an unprecedented and disruptive pandemic .
Unfortunately, scammers are quick to take advantage of crises, often targeting the most vulnerable. In 2020 alone, Australians lost more than $176 million to Covid-19 scams. The most lucrative were phishing scams involving phone calls and text messages, followed by emails.
In total, Australians lost over $851 million to scams. Investment scams made up a third of total losses, followed by romance scams and payment redirection scams. Health and medical scams increased more than twentyfold, totaling over $3.9 million in losses.
Most Vulnerable Lost $34 Million Combined
Not only do fraudsters take advantage of crises, they also tend to disproportionately affect the most vulnerable people.
- People from culturally and linguistically diverse communities represent only 5.4% of all reports made to Scamwatch. Nonetheless they suffered 12.6% of all losses for 2020. The most financially damaging scams were investment scams, followed by threat-based scams and romance scams.
- The trend for people with disability is comparable. While they only filed 3.5% of all reports. The reports comprised 5.5% of total losses. The most financially damaging scams in this group were romance scams, followed by investment scams and online shopping scams.
- Indigenous Australians made 1.6% of all reports and suffered 1.1% of total losses. The scams with the biggest financial losses were dating and romance scams, followed by investment scams and online shopping scams.
In total, scammers collectively stole close to $34 million from the most vulnerable population groups. Culturally and linguistically diverse communities lost $22 million to scams in 2020. This is a 60% increase compared to 2019. Reports from Indigenous Australians are up by 25%.
Disproportionately Targeting Mandarin Chinese
Scamwatch also received over 32,000 reports about threats to life, arrest or other, with almost $12 million in losses in 2020. This represented an increase in losses of 178%. Many fraudsters targeted young people in the Chinese community.
The Chinese authority scam is a common threat-based scam. In this scam, fraudsters impersonate Chinese authorities and accuse innocent people of committing a crime. For example, sending a parcel with illegal goods or using fake credit cards. Next, they threaten them with deportation or arrest, unless they pay a “fine” or provide their personal information for the ongoing “investigation”.
“We received over 2,000 reports about Chinese authority scams in total last year with $7 million lost, and almost a quarter of these were from people with a culturally and linguistically diverse background,” ACCC Deputy Chair Delia Rickard said. “This shows that these scams continued to disproportionately target Mandarin speakers in Australia.”
Little Black Book of Scams
Scamwatch is run by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC). Its primary goal is to make Australia a harder target for scammers. The ACCC shares intelligence with the Australian government and the private sector and raises awareness about how to recognize, avoid and report scams.
A handy little booklet the ACCC released and regularly updates is the Little Black Book of Scams. The booklet is available for free and is now translated into 10 different languages. It contains a detailed collection of the most common scams and rip off schemes. And reveals some of the secrets and tactics of scammers.