Investment scams accounted for the biggest losses, at $328 million, followed by romance scams which cost Australians $131 million. Business email compromise or payment redirection scams were the third most damaging scam, resulting in $128 million of losses.
The new figures come from the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s (ACCC) latest report which compiles data from more than 440,000 reports made to Scamwatch, ReportCyber, other government agencies, and 10 banks and financial intermediaries.
The ATO was the most commonly impersonated government agency in 2020, with 96,220 scams reported to the Tax Office. Nearly 500 people lost money to such scams, totalling nearly $2.4 million, a 12 per cent increase from 2019.
In a year that began with the black summer bushfire crisis, scammers targeted Australians by offering a bonus on their tax returns. Scammers then took advantage of COVID-19 stimulus measures, including JobKeeper and the early release of super, by issuing text message and email phishing scams that appeared to originate from the ATO or myGov which sought to harvest people’s personal information including myGov login credentials, banking details, driver licences, passports and credit cards.
Tax time 2020 then saw scam reports double, with scammers using a fake tax debt to threaten people with arrest if they did not pay it immediately. The scam remained one of the ATO’s highest-reported scams until the end of 2020.
ACCC deputy chair Delia Rickard said the large losses stemming from various scams across the year were expected to be even higher in reality.
“Last year, scam victims reported the biggest losses we have seen, but worse, we expect the real losses will be even higher, as many people don’t report these scams,” Ms Rickard said.
“Unfortunately, scammers continue to become more sophisticated and last year used the COVID-19 pandemic to scam and take advantage of people from all walks of life during this crisis.”
The ACCC’s analysis of Scamwatch data found that scammers preferred to contact victims by phone, with 47.7 per cent of scams coming from a phone call. Email scams were the next highest at 22 per cent, followed by text messages at 15 per cent.
There was an even split between scams targeting men and women, while scam losses were most likely to be reported by people aged between 55 and 64.
Jotham Lian is the editor of Accountants Daily, the leading source of breaking news, analysis and insight for Australian accounting professionals.
Before joining the team in 2017, Jotham wrote for a range of national mastheads including the Sydney Morning Herald, and Channel NewsAsia.