Phone scams ‘explode’ costing millions of vulnerable Australians, new data shows


If you’ve received more than the usual number of suspicious calls or texts this year, you’re not alone.

Phone scams are “exploding” and costing vulnerable Australians millions of dollars each year, new data from the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission shows.

In 2021, phone scams have also led to a sharp increase in financial losses for Indigenous Australians.

How Much Money Are Australians Losing to Phone Scams?

Australians have lost $ 63.6 million to scams involving unsolicited calls or texts so far this year, according to ACCC’s Scamwatch program.

This is 30% of the $ 211 million Australians have lost to all the scams so far in 2021, compared to 27% ($ 48.2 million) of all losses last year and 23% ( $ 32.4 million) in 2019.

Of the more than 213,000 reports received by the Scamwatch website so far this year, more than half were phone-related.

When you include all other types of scams, there was an 89% increase in scams over the same time period last year and we have long passed the $ 175.6 million in reported losses for the year. set of 2020.

We lose more money on average

Financial losses due to phishing schemes that trick people into disclosing personal information, such as these phone scams, increased 261% in 2021 compared to last year.

The average financial loss of a victim has also increased this year, according to data covering all types of scams and not just those involving phones.

ACCC Vice President Delia Rickard said if the proportion of reports involving financial loss drops in 2021, people who lose money lose larger amounts.

“It’s very disturbing to see these scams evolve and become more sophisticated to steal even more money from unsuspecting people.”

Impact on vulnerable communities

There has been a noticeable increase in the number of Indigenous Australians reporting significant financial losses due to phone scams in 2021.

For the whole of 2020, Indigenous peoples reported 1,515 phone scams with losses of $ 223,947, according to Scamwatch.

So far in 2021, Indigenous peoples have made 1,783 reports with losses of $ 2.2 million.

When you include all types of scams, Indigenous Australians saw a 172% increase in reported losses compared to the same time period in 2020.

So far this year, Australians aged 65 and over have reported losses of $ 20.5 million from phone scams, accounting for around 32% of the country’s financial losses from these programs and exceeding 18, $ 3 million they lost to phone scams last year.

People who speak English as a second language have lost $ 6.5 million to phone scams so far this year, after losing $ 7.8 million to phone scams for all of 2020 .

Of those people, those aged 45 to 54 have lost the most this year, reporting losses of $ 2.2 million so far.

How do phone scams work?

Ms Rickard of the ACCC claims that crooks usually call or text people and pretend to be from well-known companies or government agencies, in an attempt to steal personal information.


“When they claim to help you process a refund, they are actually gaining remote access to your computer and stealing your personal and banking information.”

A phone-based malware scam known as Flubot also took off in Australia in August, via fake voicemail messages and parcel delivery.

The ACCC said this particular scam led to more than 13,000 reports in just eight weeks.

“These scams are of particular concern in our current climate, as many people are turning to online shopping due to COVID-19 lockdowns,” Ms. Rickard said.

Why are phone scams “exploding”?

Paul Haskell-Dowland, associate dean for IT and security at Edith Cowan University in Perth, said there were several reasons why phone scams have increased dramatically in recent years.

This includes the fact that many people are now working from home amid COVID-19 lockdowns and may not have many people nearby to raise potential issues.

“There is perhaps less incentive to communicate with people who are not immediately next to us,” he says.

Dr Haskell-Dowland says many people are aware of potential scams involving suspicious desktops and emails, but are not as aware of potential issues on mobile devices.

“I think because [phone scams] have not been so prevalent before, people are not as risk sensitive, ”he says.

“They may not be thinking about the risk of apps that could be installed through things like SMS delivery scams, which we’re seeing an increase in right now.”

Experts call for vigilance

Ms. Rickard from ACCC said it was important for people to know how to protect themselves.

“Remember you never know who you are dealing with online,” she says.


Dr Haskell-Dowland says people shouldn’t panic if they think they’ve been targeted by a phone scam because some of them are easily treated.

“If you’ve received a spam or a message that you’re not sure about, but didn’t do anything about it, then you’re pretty much safe,” he said.

He says people should delete all suspicious messages and ignore them.

If a message or caller claims to be from a bank, business, or organization and you’re not sure you’ve requested their service, it says people should contact the organization directly (and not using the contact details provided in the message or call, as they may be fraudulent) to verify if the request is legitimate.

How to report a phone scam

The ACCC says it is sharing the phone numbers of suspected crooks with telecom providers for investigation and potential blocking, so members of the public should report apparent scams to Scamwatch, even if they haven’t lost any money or their personal data.

Anyone who has provided their bank details to a scammer should contact their bank or financial institution as soon as possible, while anyone with suspicion of being a victim of identity theft should contact the free government-funded service. IDCARE.

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