In 2015, a whopping $229 million was reported stolen through online scams in Australia. Over 130,800 scam complaints were made to the Australian Cybercrime Online Reporting Network (ACORN) and ACCC -- a sharp increase from the previous year. In short, Aussies are losing more money and getting scammed more often, with the main culprits being investment and online dating scams. Here are some tips from the ACCC to help you protect yourself.
We're currently in the middle of National Consumer Fraud Week; an annual awareness campaign run by the ACCC that attempts to educate Australians about online scams and how to avoid them.
"The total scam losses exceeded $229 million last year. We know that in reality the actual total is higher still as many people never report that they've been scammed," the ACCC's Delia Rickard explained.
"This Fraud Week, we are encouraging older Australians to wise up and watch out for scams that target them so they don't have their hard earned savings stolen."
In 2015, Scamwatch received 213 complaints from victims over the age of 55 who lost a total of $6.3 million between them. Most of the victims were snared by bogus investment opportunities to grow their retirement funds.
"Investment scams come in many guises including business ventures, superannuation schemes, managed funds and the sale or purchase of shares or property," the ACCC warns. "Scammers dress up 'opportunities' with professional looking brochures and websites to mask their fraudulent operations and trick unsuspecting Australians."
Dating and romance scams were also a concern, with $5.6 million lost to victims over 55. Meanwhile, the total for "love scams" in 2015 was $54 million; suggesting that people of all ages are just as gullible when it comes to romance.
"Dating and romance scams take advantage of people looking for romantic partners, often via dating websites, apps or social media," the ACCC says. "Scammers spend months and even years establishing a relationship with their victims before making up a reason they need to 'borrow' money, such as medical emergencies or travel expenses." You can read more about this insidious practice here.
While we're confident that most regular Lifehacker readers are savvy enough to sport a scam from a mile away, it still pays to bone up on red flags and warning signs. Here are some tips to avoid the above scams, courtesy of the ACCC:
Dating and romance scams
- Run a Google Image search to check the authenticity of any photos provided -- scammers often use fake photos they’ve found online.
- Don't send money or your personal details to someone you meet online -- no matter how convincing their story is.
- Never share intimate photos of videos with someone you meet online -- they could later use it to blackmail you.
- Don't let anyone pressure you into making decisions about your money or investments.
- Only invest your money with a managed fund or other investment that is licensed by ASIC and check ASIC's MoneySmart website.
- Do not send you money overseas for an investment offer that has come out of the blue -- no matter how attractive or professional it appears.
"Before parting with your money, do your own research on the investment company and check they have a Australian Financial Services Licence on ASIC's MoneySmart website. Don't let anyone pressure you into making decisions about your money or investments," Ms Rickard adds.
“Never send money to someone you have met online — chances are you will be left with a broken heart and an empty bank account. Cease contact with anyone that asks for money, no matter how you feel about them.”
Have you ever been sucked in by a scam artist? We want to hear about it in the comments!
Additional reporting by Rae Johnston.