Phishing and identity theft were among the top three most reported scams in Australia during 2018 according to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) Targeting Scams report.
There were a total of 24,291 phishing scams reported with losses of more than $930,000, making this the number one category reported in 2018, even after seeing a 7.9 per cent drop compared to 2017.
In third was identity theft with 12,888 reports totalling more than $1.4 million in losses. Identity theft reports have however seen a drop of 18.5 per cent.
"In 2018, reports of these scams were boosted partly because of scammers using technology to automate communication via emails, text message and phone calls," stated ACCC in the report. "Two concerning trends in 2018 were an increase of ‘remote access scam’ reports by 31 per cent and the 134.5 per cent increase to ‘threats to life, arrest or other’ scams over 2017 numbers."
"The impact of identity theft is worsened by the time and effort it takes many Australians to recover their identity, rectify credit reports, and update (or get new) bank accounts and personal identification documents when compromised by scammers," the report said. "For example, victims may be unable to obtain a new driver’s licence, which means the cycle of identity theft and recovery continues over many years."
The year of 2018 also saw a more elaborate version of the classic tech support scam in which scammers impersonate the police and ask for access to a victim’s computer to catch scammers. This resulted in increased losses for ‘remote access scams’ in 2018 making it the fourth scam by reported loss.
There were 11,344 remote access scams reported resulting in a total loss of $4.7 million. Hacking scams resulted in a $3.1 million reported loss after 8,625 scams reported.
Ransomware and malware saw a 1.3 per cent decrease in reports however it still received 4,356 reports with $151,195 lost.
The year 2018 had the highest level of financial loss ever reported to Scamwatch with $107 million reported lost and a total of 177,516 scam reports. This is an 18 per cent increase over 2017 which totalled $90.9 million.
Scamwatch, Australian Cybercrime Online Reporting Network (ACORN) and other federal and state-based government agencies received over 378,000 reports about scams resulting in combined losses exceeding $489.7 million.
"And 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.
“Scammers are adapting old scams to new technology, seeking payment through unusual methods and automating scam calls to increase their reach to potential victims," she explained.
The Department of Human Services (DHS) received 6,506 reports in 2018 about government impersonation scams with $1.3 million in reported losses. There were two main scams reported to the DHS in 2018. One was a text message-based phishing scam in which scammers presented themselves as ‘MyGov’ or ‘Medicare’ and stated the recipient was owed a rebate.
The other most common scam reported to the DHS was a landline phone-based rebate scam in which scammers told victims they were owed a rebate by the government. Victims were told that to receive the rebate, they had to first pay a small processing fee.
In late 2018, many thousands of Australian households were hit with automated phone calls from scammers impersonating the ATO threatening arrest for unpaid taxes.
In November, reports of the ATO scam increased more than 900 per cent, indicating the scammers were engaged in a concentrated campaign to scam as many Australians as possible.