Losses from reported Australian hacking incidents quadrupled in 2016: ACCC

The consumer watchdog revealed that AU$2.9 million was reported as lost to hacking in 2016, up from a mere AU$700,000 in 2015.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has reported a four-fold increase in hacking scams, with AU$2.9 million lost to such activity in 2016, up from AU$700,000 in 2015.

According to Targeting scams: Report of the ACCC on scams activity 2016, businesses bore the brunt of these scams, with over half -- AU$1.7 million -- being attributed to businesses.

"While the digital economy presents many opportunities and efficiencies for businesses, it also presents significant risks," ACCC deputy chair Delia Rickard says in the report's foreword.

"Scams targeting businesses are becoming increasingly sophisticated using modern technology to make fake emails, invoices and websites appear legitimate to even the astute business person."

While the digital age is hitting businesses in Australia, the report [PDF] highlights that consumers are also being affected by scammers, with digitisation providing the opportunity for scammers to try new tricks.

Online scams -- those executed via the internet, email, social networks, and mobile apps -- outnumbered phone-based scams in 2016, with an increase of 130 percent over 2015.

Elsewhere in the report, losses to online scams accounted for 58 percent -- AU$48.4 million -- of total losses, while social media was a particularly busy platform used by scammers to lure victims, netting losses of AU$9.5 million in 2016 compared with AU$3.8 million in 2015.

Of the social media scams, the most prevalent were related to online dating and sextortion, a form of blackmail in which compromising images of the victim are used to extort money.

In 2016, Scamwatch received over 440 reports from victims of sextortion in the country.

Phishing scams and identity theft were the most prevalent of all phone scams during the year, with 19,344 reports of scams mostly the result of cold-calling from fake investment firms.

In addition to the increase of scams through social media, the ACCC said emerging trends in 2016 included scams using iTunes and other gift cards, mostly relating to tax scams.

Over 20,000 reports were made to Scamwatch about this type of scam, with 280 reported scams totalling a loss of over AU$1.4 million, with 60 percent of victims admitting they paid the scammer with iTunes gift cards.

Email-based scams were still highly profitable, the ACCC found.

The Australian Cybercrime Online Reporting Network (ACORN) also received a large number of online scam reports in 2016, with 45,068 scams totalling approximately AU$205 million known to the organisation.

Investment scams, online identity theft, and hacking were some of the largest categories for losses reported by ACORN.

Scam disruption programs operated by the ACCC, South Australian Police, and Western Australian Police, in collaboration with the WA Department of Commerce, use financial intelligence to proactively detect Australians sending funds to high risk jurisdictions, the ACCC said, noting that many of the victims do not report their loss to the ACCC.

"A combined estimate of losses to this unreported scam activity is approximately AU$11.5 million," the report says. "An aggregate of losses reported to Scamwatch and ACORN, together with unreported losses detected through scam disruption programs show approximate overall losses of almost AU$300 million."

However, the ACCC, believes this figure is by no means conclusive of the total cost of scams, given many victims do not report their experiences, pointing to a Personal Fraud survey from the Australian Bureau of Statistics that estimated the total amount lost to personal fraud as closer to AU$3 billion.

Those over the age of 65 were reported by the ACCC as being the most vulnerable victims, copping the highest financial loss of AU$13.6 million.

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