Australians got scammed to the tune of more than $70 million last year, and the majority of those rip-offs originated online. However, avoiding getting ripped off doesn't require complex technical know-how.
The $70 million figure comes from the ACCC, which is running its Fraud Week awareness campaign this week. The ACCC received more than 20,000 scam reports in 2009, and it's likely that the total figure is higher, since some people won't seek redress when they've been ripped off due to embarrassment or ignorance. Scam culture has also moved firmly online: of those complaints, 70% related to the Internet.
The most common form of scam remains "advance fee fraud", which is a fancy label for what many of us know as 'Nigerian scams' — promises of unheard of wealth in return for helping to transfer a massive sum from one location to another. Invariably during this process, victims are asked to provide funds themselves (to help with processing or legal costs or whatever excuse the scammer can dream up), which will be the last they'll see of that hard-earned cash.
The biggest growth area was in online shopping scams, with complaints more than doubling. Phishing scams involving banks or disputed bills also grew dramatically. (My own junk mail repository seems to be particularly full of fake eBay queries this week, as in the picture; quite aside from my complete lack of selling activity on eBay recently, the word 'Mamber' in the subject is a bit of a giveaway.)
In a tight world economy, it's no surprise that online crime is on the rise. It also shouldn't come as news that most of the techniques to avoid getting ripped off are familiar territory, and boil down to two basic rules: you're not about to get rich quick, and you should never respond to emails or supply unfamiliar web sites with personal details such as passwords, dates of birth or account numbers. However, with $70 million going down the drain in 2009, they bear revisiting now and again.
As part of its Fraud Week activities, the ACCC has produced two guide booklets on scam avoidance — one for small businesses and the other about online shopping — which make useful reading to pass on to concerned friends or relatives. As ever, you can report any suspicious activity to the SCAMwatch site.
Lifehacker's weekly Loaded column looks at better ways to manage (and stop worrying about) your money.