The Australian Institute of Criminology (AIC) has found that Victorians are still falling victim to internet scams, adding that a new defence is required to protect users from dating site scams.
In its report "Risk factors for advance fee fraud victimisation" (PDF), which surveyed 202 Victorians that had sent money to Nigeria in a scam, the AIC found that the most common way in which victims were duped out of their cash was via email. Two thirds of victims reported that their first contact with a scam came via email. It also identified dating or social networking sites as another common form of initial contact.
In total, 85 per cent of scam victims had been recruited over the internet, while a small number of victims first had contact with the offenders via mail, fax or phone. In a very small number of cases, the victim was referred by someone they already knew.
The report revealed that of the victims that disclosed their losses, the average amount sent overseas to scammers totalled about $12,000 per person.
For advance fee scams — those that require the victim send money to "unlock" promised funds — the report stated that the crime prevention message should be "if an offer seems to be too good to be true, it probably isn't true."
However, while it is apparent that some victims were heeding that advice and being initially suspicious, they were still being caught out. According to the report, 30 per cent of victims had undertaken some "research" on the identity of the scammers, and around 40 per cent had been provided with some verification of the offenders' identity, although usually it had been counterfeited.
In addition, the report said that a different approach was needed to defend against scammers that operated on dating sites or claimed to be charities.
"Effective crime prevention needs to counter the psychological strategies used by fraudsters who seek to manipulate the altruistic tendencies of victims," the report said. "In the case of dating scams, the counter-strategy is more problematic, as the fraud is based on the development of a 'romantic' or other personal relationship that may initially appear to be harmless. Emotional involvement may also make it very difficult to convince the victim of the deception involved."
In particular, the report found that the largest group of victims was involved in dating scams, and, as a group, their losses were substantially higher than those of any other form of scam.
It also found that there was some correlation between the types of scams that victims were likely to fall for, and their age.
Respondents aged 65 years or older were more likely to be a victim of other advance fee scams; victims aged 45 to 54 years were more likely to be victims of dating scams; and victims aged 18 to 24 years were more likely to be victims of online transaction scams.
The use of security software appears to be having little effect in preventing users from being scammed. AusCERT's (2008) "Home Users' Computer Security Survey" found that 94 per cent of those surveyed had anti-virus software installed, 86 per cent used a firewall and 42 per cent used anti-phishing tools. The present research found similarly high levels of use of internet security measures in place, although, of course, such security measures cannot provide a perfect solution to receipt of scams.