What to do if you have been scammed like 378,000 Aussies


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Scams cost 378,000 Australians an average of $6000 last year, not to mention the emotional distress of being ripped off.

The scamming industry is big business in Australia and, not surprisingly, it has attracted organised crime, which is throwing plenty of sophisticated technology, pressure and fear tactics at Australians to make them hand over their money. And it is working.

Scammers extracted $489 million in 2018, 44% more than in 2017, according to the latest figures in the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission's Targeting Scams report, which measures total combined losses reported to Scamwatch and other government agencies.

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"And these record losses are likely just the tip of the iceberg. We know that not everyone who suffers a loss to a scammer reports it to a government agency," says Delia Rickard, the ACCC's deputy chair.

Take the rampant tax scam launched in late 2018 that saw a 900% increase in Australian households hit with automated phone calls from scammers impersonating the ATO and threatening to arrest them for unpaid taxes.

Rickard says the scammers were engaged in a concentrated campaign to target as many Australians as possible.

"Scammers are using pressure and fear tactics combined with technology to trick people into parting with their money," says Rickard.

"Scammers increasingly ask for money via iTunes cards, Google Play cards and cryptocurrencies to avoid the anti-scam measures employed by banks and money laundering detection systems."

Investment scams are the most financially devastating, says Rickard, with Australians losing $86 million last year.

Dating and romance scams ripped $60.5 million from Australians in 2018, up from $42 million in 2017.

"These extraordinary losses show that scammers are causing significant financial and emotional harm to many Australians," says Rickard.

"Scammers are adapting old scams to new technology, seeking payment through unusual methods and automating scam calls to increase their reach to potential victims."

In 2018, more than 378,000 scam reports were submitted to the ACCC's Scamwatch, the Australian Cybercrime Online Reporting Network (ACORN) and other federal and state-based government agencies such as the tax office.

Australian businesses are also being targeted by sophisticated "business email compromise scams" with reports of losses to Scamwatch and other agencies exceeding $60 million in 2018.

Tactics include hacking business email systems and impersonating key personnel in emails. They request changes to regular bank account details so that money is transferred to the scammer's account instead of where it should normally go. Many businesses are caught off guard because the emails appear genuine.

"The ACCC has been working with banks, financial intermediaries and online classified sites to disrupt scams, but this year we, along with the ACMA [Australian Communications and Media Authority] and ACSC [Australian Cyber Security Centre], would also like to see social media platforms and telecommunications providers doing more to limit the ability of scammers to connect with victims," says Rickard.

The ACCC wants people who have been scammed to visit scamwatch.gov.au to report scams so it can warn others about them and learn more about what to do if they are targeted.

They can also follow @scamwatch_gov on Twitter and subscribe to alert emails to keep up to date with advice for avoiding the latest scams.

Take immediate action

ASIC recommends you take the following steps straight away if you think a scammer has targeted you:

  • Delete and block all contact from the scammer.
  • Call your bank (or the business the scam is pretending to represent) to report the scam.
  • Check your bank account for any suspicious transactions. See "unauthorised and mistaken transactions" on the ASIC website for more information.
  • Ask the bank or company to freeze your accounts if the scammer has accessed any money.
  • Scan your computer for viruses.
  • File a police report if the scammer has accessed any money.
  • Get a free copy of your credit report. This will allow you to see who has recently checked your credit history and whether anyone is using your name to run up debts.
  • Warn your family and friends about the scam.
  • Report the scam to the relevant agency to help stop it.

Source: ASIC

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Susan has been a finance journalist for more than 30 years, beginning at the Australian Financial Review before moving to the Sydney Morning Herald. She edited a superannuation magazine, Superfunds, for the Association of Superannuation Funds of Australia, and writes regularly on superannuation and managed funds. She's also author of the best-selling book Women and Money.