Australians are likely to lose $4 billion to ‘scumbag’ scammers this year, almost double the money lost last year, the federal government warns.
Financial Services Minister Stephen Jones on Monday reiterated Labor will give the Australian Consumer and Competition Commission $10 million to set up a new National Anti-Scam Centre.
It has also doubled funding for identity recovery services and has legislation before parliament to tighten up privacy laws and increase penalties for data breaches.
It will also introduce tough new industry codes on telcos, finance and social media platforms to improve safety and reduce economic crime.
Speaking at the start of Scams Awareness Week, Mr Jones said he was disturbed by the $4 billion figure but not surprised.
“It’s a tragedy at any point in time, but when Australians are struggling with cost-of-living increases, to have their life savings ripped away from them is just unbearable,” he told Seven Network.
“That’s money that should be in the small businesses or households, not flowing to these criminals and scumbags ripping Australians off.”
Scams cost consumers, businesses, and the economy hundreds of millions of dollars each year and cause serious emotional harm to victims and their families.
In 2021, the combined losses reported to Scamwatch, which is run by the ACCC, ReportCyber, 12 financial organisations and other government agencies totalled $1.8 billion.
But the real figure is more than $2 billion, the ACCC said, because around one third of scam victims don’t report to anyone.
Between January and September this year, Scamwatch, received more than 166,000 reports.
This reflects a 90 per cent increase in losses to $424.8 million compared to the same period last year.
But when combined losses are calculated, the number for this calender year is forecast at $4 billion.
“We know scammers are relentlessly targeting Australians,” ACCC deputy chair Delia Rickard said on Monday.
“While there is a great deal of work underway to disrupt scammers, our best defence against these types of scams is education.”
One of the biggest scams includes phishing, where a scammer tries to con someone into revealing their identity and other personal information including banking details.
According to comparison website Finder, Australians are also increasingly falling victim to fake text and phone calls.
Its survey of 1058 Australians found 75 per cent had received a fraudulent text message or phone call this year.
But only 21 per cent reported the scam while four per cent didn’t realise until later it was a hoax.
Sarah Megginson, money expert at Finder, said Australians had been flooded with fraudulent text and phone calls in recent years and should ignore contact from unknown numbers.
“Let the caller go to voicemail. If they leave a number, you can check if it matches a real business online,” she said in a statement on Monday.
“Don’t ever reply to or click on links in text messages. These could link to viruses and other nasties, or fake sites looking to steal your personal data.”