Cryptocurrency scams took over AU$6m from Australians in 2018: ACCC

While hacking scams accounted for over AU$3 million in reported losses.

Almost half a billion dollars were lost by Australians due to scams in 2018, according to an Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) report released on Monday.

The report stated that the ACCC-controlled Scamwatch and other government agencies received over 378,000 scam reports in 2018, with the total combined losses from scams exceeding AU$489 million -- AU$149 million more than the year prior, up 41.7% year on year.

"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," ACCC Deputy Chair Delia Rickard said.

Of that total reported amount, AU$107 million was reported to Scamwatch. 

In 2018, Scamwatch received 177,516 scam reports, which is a 10% increase from the 161,528 scams reported in 2017, and a 94% increase compared to 2013. The increases are a reflection of a growing scam problem as well as a better awareness by Australians of where to report scams, the ACCC said.

Hacking scams accounted for 8,625 of the scam reports received by Scamwatch in 2018, and over AU$3.1 million worth of reported losses. Compared to 2017, this was a 49.8% increase year on year in the amount of hacking scam reports received by Scamwatch.

Meanwhile, online shopping scams and ransomware accounted for 9,691 and 4,356 Scamwatch reports, respectively. These two categories resulted in AU$3.3 million and AU$151,000 of reported losses, respectively. According to Scamwatch, popular items Australians are trying to buy from scammers include shoes, Apple and Samsung phones, puppies, and cars.

There was also a significant uptick in the amount of cryptocurrency scams in 2018, with 674 reports and AU$6.1 million in reported losses, a 190% increase compared to the AU$2.1 million reported to Scamwatch in 2017. The scam category with the highest reported losses to cryptocurrencies was "investment scams", with AU$2.6 million in reported losses.

In the 2017 iteration of the same ACCC report, the watchdog said the impact of cryptocurrency-related scams had grown in parallel with the burgeoning "value" and popularity of cryptocurrency during the fourth quarter of 2017.

This year's ACCC report also said telephones were the most common method scammers used to contact victims, accounting for 46.9% of Scamwatch's reports; followed by emails, at 23.2%; text messages, at 14.4%; and social media, which was used in 3.8% of scams reported.

There was an increase of scammers employing automation in telephone communications, the ACCC said, which resulted in tens of thousands of phone calls and voice messages with the majority of these communications being ATO impersonation and Chinese authority scams.

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

People aged between 55 and 64 were the most prone to losing money from scams compared to any other age group, reporting total losses of AU$24.8 million.

For businesses, there were 5,846 scams reported to Scamwatch and AU$7.2 million in reported losses, resulting in an 8% increase in the amount of reports and a 58% increase in the amount of losses reported year on year. Micro to medium-sized businesses were the primary victims of scams, accounting for over 90% of the reported losses in 2018, which was around AU$6.3 million.

Hacking scams targeted at businesses resulted in around AU$800,000 in reported losses and 304 reports sent to Scamwatch.

At the same time, business email compromise losses reported to Scamwatch in 2018 exceeded $3.8 million. When combined with reports to ACORN, losses to business email compromise scams exceeded $60 million. This is a 170% increase over the combined losses of $22.1 million reported in 2017.

"The ACCC has been working with banks, financial intermediaries, and online classified sites to disrupt scams, but this year we, along with the ACMA and ACSC, would also like to see social media platforms and telecommunications providers doing more to limit the ability of scammers to connect with victims," she said.  

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