By Kerin Shekel, 30th May 2012
Anyone can be a victim of personal fraud and, according to the ABS Personal Fraud Survey 2010-11, the chances of being scammed are on the rise.
In the 12 months surveyed, 36% of Australians reported being exposed to one scam or more – the same percentage as ABS reports from 2007.
An estimated 6.4 million Australians were exposed to a scam, with 514,500 of those responding to the scam. The report commissioned by the Australasian Consumer Fraud Taskforce (ACFT) suggests that although the level of scams has not changed, more Australians are falling victim.
Under the topic of Personal Fraud, the survey collected data relating to identity fraud and a variety of scams.
Overall, Personal Fraud accounted for losses of $1.4 billion to 1.2 million Australians, with the average victim losing $2,000 to a scam.
Although credit card fraud is the fastest-growing crime, old-style scams including chain letters are still effective. Despite the victimisation rate being statistically low, 16,200 Australians fell for this old con.
The leading scam Australians responded to were fake notifications from banks or financial institutions by email.
The Internet may have changed the way victims are targeted but fraudsters will use any means to contact victims. Scam watch agencies are reporting a resurgence in telephone scams. The Australian Competition & Consumer Commission’s (ACCC) Targeting Scams:2011 report found 41% of victims were contacted by telephone. Although the Internet was the most common means of contact in the ABS study, 41% of these victims were also contacted by telephone.
More of the victims of scams were married, and better educated with average earnings of $1000-2000 a week. But scammers targeted people of all ages, genders and ethnicities.
There is some evidence, however, that a personal life crisis before a scam does make people more vulnerable. In the recent ACCC report, 41% of victims had suffered a physical or financial crisis before being contacted by a scammer. ACCC media advisor Brent Rebecca quoted the ACFT as saying “scammers don’t discriminate – they target anyone.”
For the purposes of the research, the ABS considers people who responded in any way, including asking for more information, as a victim of a scam. The ACCC reports that 40% of victims of the notorious Nigerian scams had attempted to fact-check before being conned.
This echoes advice from the government’s website, www.scamwatch.gov.au, that the first defence against scams is to not respond to unsolicited and dubious contacts.
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