NewsAussies Lose $300 Million To Scams

Aussies Lose $300 Million To Scams

Australians lost a startling $300 million to scams in 2016, a figure which only accounts for those cases known to authorities. The record losses combine those reported to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission and the Australian Cybercrime Online Reporting Network, which number more than 200,000. 

Investment scams accounted for the greatest losses, at a total of $59 million, followed by dating and romance scams, which netted nearly $42 million. 

The fraud case involving former veterinarian Stephen Larkin this week highlights the complexities around scamming. 

When we think of people losing money to scams, it’s easy to label them as “naïve” because, after all, who would send money to someone they had never met right?

In the case of 77 year-old Stephen Larkin, Magistrate Megan Greenwood said this week that he had used considerable skill and cunning in abusing the court system to fleece people he knew had money.

Despite having no documentation or concrete evidence concerning claimed debts, the twice-bankrupted convicted fraudster lodged bogus claims of up to $60,000 a time against people he knew. He obtained default judgments against them, then he lied to registrars and magistrates saying that he had served those court orders on his victims.

The court would then issue a garnishee order against his victim and, in some cases, money was taken from the victim's bank accounts without their knowledge. Magistrate Greenwood described his actions as brazen and shameless. He was jailed for a third time.

Australians lost a startling $300 million to scams in 2016, a figure which only accounts for those cases known to authorities.

The record losses combine those reported to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission and the Australian Cybercrime Online Reporting Network, which number more than 200,000.

Investment scams accounted for the greatest losses, at a total of $59 million, followed by dating and romance scams, which netted nearly $42 million. 

ACCC deputy chair Delia Rickard told us recently that "scams are getting nastier than ever before."

This sentiment was echoed by forensic cyber security expert Simon Smith who told us on the Daily Drive this week that the $300 million estimate was conservative when you consider that he had personally been involved in trying to track $78 million himself.

When it comes to romance scams, the recent case of Sydney woman Sanaa Derba who pleaded guilty to defrauding older men of over $2 million via online dating sites comes to mind and Simon has even had calls form clients at the airport distraught because “she didn’t show up”. She was never going to he tells them.

Hacking, social media, impersonation and fake trader scams were among other scams reported.

There are a lot more threat-based scams targeting vulnerable people; pretending to be from immigration threatening deportation, threatening recipients of Centrelink, or pretending to be the ATO and claiming there is a warrant out for a person's arrest.

It was through social media that my friend Maria* found herself on the cusp of falling into a romance scam earlier this year, after she was contacted by a man purporting to be a US Marine based in the Middle-East.

Having just come out of a long-term relationship Maria was open to meeting someone online, prompting her to accept his Facebook message request.

She began conversing online with the man and quickly began falling for his expert grooming or “human hacking”.

After about a month he began asking for money and then requested she send him $5000 to a bank account in the UK as his accounts had been frozen by the military. She started to realise things weren’t right and cut off communication. A week later she received, by email, a letter on “Bank of London” letterhead requesting that she deposit $5000 into an account as she had “promised” to do or she would be arrested by Interpol. When she showed me the letter she was distraught and asked for advice. I tore it up into little pieces in front of her.

In 2016, one third of dating and romance scam victims reported that they had come into contact with a scammer through a social media platform.

According to ACCC ScamWatch reports, phone and email were the most dominant contact methods used by scammers in 2016, while email, internet, social media and mobile applications are now considered the most common and effective methods.

Last November, the Australian Institute of Criminology assessed the links between age and consumer fraud victimisation, finding that Australians aged 18–24 were more likely to provide personal details than middle aged to older Australians. 

The AIC found Australians aged 45–55 were more likely to fall victim to dating and romance fraud, while people aged 65 and over were statistically more likely to send money when encountering fraud.

In an attempt to quash the number of older Australians losing money through romance and relationship scams the ACCC is continuing to work with intermediaries, such as banks.

Through its Scam Disruption Project the ACCC uses financial intelligence to identify potential victims sending funds to high risk destinations, advising them via letter that they may be the target of a scam.

"Of those [9066] that were sent a letter, 74 per cent stopped sending money within six weeks," Ms Rickard said.

The ACCC projects that money transfers to high-risk areas in 2016 amounted to $7.5 million, down almost 15 per cent from $8.7 million in 2015. Have you been scammed or heard of a scam you'd like to warn others about? Let us know in feedback below.

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Fred from NSW commented:

I was scammed once with the Microsoft deal which led me to lose $800. Now when receiving such calls I keep them on line giving the impression I am interested and then when appropriate I tell them to *&^%$#@! (obvious nasty words) and they quickly hang up. George from NSW 

Robert (Bob)
Robert (Bob) from WA commented:

Bob from WA I am similar to sharon below, however I have reversed the call from the Telstra operator by asking them "have you a problem with their computer and advise I would try to help them. Be friendly and helpful. They get off the line ASAP. No more Telstra calls for the last 4 weeks!!!!!!! Play their game 

Sharon from NSW replied to Robert (Bob):

In reply to Bob, the 220 plus calls to our land line are not from scammers, they are people returning the call received scammer by redialling or dialling the number displayed, the scammers are using our number to hide their contact number so all calls come to us. The scammers are therefore uncontactable. 

Anonymous from NSW replied to Sharon:

I have calling number display and don't answer any numbers i don't recognize, when they hang up i dial the number useing 1831 before their number, when they answer i find out who was calling. If they don't answer, i know it must be a scammer. 

Anonymous from NSW commented:

So sorry i forgot to explain why i dial 1831. It blocks my number and on their phone it says "private". So they don't know who is calling them. 

Sharon from NSW commented:

Thanks for your tip, but unfortunately it won't help our problem, perhaps it may help others. 

Sharon from NSW commented:

The scammers posing as Telstra and Microsoft are using our land line number (not line) to hide their identity therefore people who have a missed call redial to return the call which leads to our home phone. We have received over 220 calls from around Australia and 4 from Netherlands. Optus are unable help other than forcing us to change our number which we have had for over 20 years. Great service! We have reported to Scamwatch. 

Joanne from VIC commented:

I have silent no. on my landline & I don't answer calls on my mobile if I don't know it. I did once get a call on my landline from the S.E.S. NSW asking for a donation, I just told them I donate to my local SES in Vic. & then hung up. I don't seem to get any of these calls, what am I doing wrong? or right? 

Ron from VIC commented:

I am like Elaine, getting 4 or 5 calls saying there is a problem with my internet provider. When I ask who was my provider they say Telstra and I say you can't fool this old bugga because my wife used to work at Telstra and if we have a problem we can call on friends within Telstra to assist. Then hangup. lol 

Ron from VIC replied to Ron:

By the way we don't use Telstra of out internet or phone service and it is true that my wife did work for Telstra. 

Anonymous from QLD commented:

Wise to stick to be careful and on guard. 

elaine from QLD commented:

I have at least six per day most ''Telstra having problems with my computer. ' Just slam down receiver the distressing part is they come through until nine at night. Have answering machine but sometimes I do pickup having family interstate especially the late night ones. 

Anonymous from WA commented:

I have had several phone calls from a man who says that one of my family had a car accident, and he is in the position to help them. Another one is that there is a warrant out for my arrest, because I failed to sign some Taxation papers, to admit that I have defrauded the Department. The police will be at my door very soon, unless they help me out. I have not paid tax for years, being a pensioner. 

margaret from NSW commented:

Have not heard about what must be a scam of some sort. Received the call today. No background call centre noise, just a well spoken woman saying that Centrelink was please to announce that they would be increasing all pensions. Was I on a pension? Please press 1 for yes or 2 for no. Could not put the phone down quickly enough. Something must be in place that allows any answer to give permission for something, a little like the scam designed to get you to say yes on the phone. We really must be considered stupid if we are thought likely to believe that Centrelink does not have all our details and would need to make random calls to find those to whom they can give the joyous news. Oh Dear 

Joanne from VIC replied to margaret:

Hi! Margaret, Centrelink would send a letter for most things, but for an increase in your pension it is auto into the bank. You did well!!!!! 

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