Australians Lost A Record $500 Million To Scammers Last Year

Scammers swindled Australians a whopping half a billion dollars in 2018 in a clear sign that the problem is getting worse across the nation, according to the consumer watchdog.

Investment scams and dating and romance scams overwhelmingly cost Australians the most, making up a combined $146 million in losses from more than 378,000 reports submitted to various government agencies.

The combined losses from all scams notched a 44 percent increase from 2017, according to the ACCC's Targeting Scams Report, released this week.

ACCC's Deputy Chair Delia Rickard said the latest findings show scammers are using new and old technology to swindle Australians out of millions, using "unusual methods" including gift cards and cryptocurrency.

According to Rickard, they are "overwhelmingly" carried out by criminals overseas -- making them harder to catch.

"These record losses are likely just the tip of the iceberg," she said.

Image: Getty Images

Dating and romance scams saw unsuspecting Australians hand over more than $60 million last year -- a 40 percent increase in reported losses from 2017.

“These extraordinary losses show that scammers are causing significant financial and emotional harm to many Australians,” Rickard said.

By February this year more than $1 million had already been lost to romance scams, with scammers increasingly targeting Tinder and Viber users as well as those on social media, according to Scamwatch.

"Finding potential new love is exhilarating, but that can make it easy to miss the red flags that point to you falling for a scammer," Rickard said earlier this year.

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"Nearly all romance scammers will eventually reveal their intentions, which is getting your money. If you’ve only ever known the person online or through an app, don’t give them money. You may think you love them and want to help, but they’ll just break your heart, and deplete your bank account."

In 2018, phones remained the dominant contact method used by scammers, making up close to half of all reported scams, followed by email, text message and social media.

Automated phone calls were a big issue in 2018, with a spike in reports of an automated ATO impersonation scam which threatened people with arrest for unpaid taxes.

By November, reports of the scam had climbed by more than 900 percent.

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

Image: Getty Images

Online shopping scams reported to the ACCC saw one of the highest jumps in reports, rising more than 137 percent and costing shoppers more than $3 million in reported losses last year.

While more women reported scams than men, they lost less money: $48.8 million in losses for women were reported to the ACCC, compared to $56.9 million for men.

Other top scams including false billing, remote access scams, threats to life, arrest or other, hacking and unexpected prize and lottery scams.

Featured Image: Getty Images