Women were also highly targeted by scammers, reporting losses to threat-based scams three times higher than men, according to the latest Scamwatch report from the competition regulator, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC).
The ACCC says threat based scammers often pretend to be from government departments and rely on fear, intimidation and people’s instinct to comply with authority, to scam victims.
The scams are mainly phone-based and impersonate various officials, such as police, ATO officers or government investigators.
“It is extremely concerning that young people are being so severely emotionally and financially impacted by threat based scams,” ACCC Deputy Chair Delia Rickard said.
“These losses can be devastating and they can also lead to a loss of trust in authority, meaning victims of threat based scams may be less likely to seek help or advice from legitimate agencies in the future.”
The ACCC says that so far this year Scamwatch has received over 18,000 reports of these scams, an increase of 40% compared to reports across all of 2019.
Chinese authority scams comprised 74% of all losses to threat based scams, totalling over $6.5 million, with the scams targetting Mandarin-speakers in Australian and impersonating authorities such as the Chinese embassy, police or other government officials.
“Threat based scams disproportionately impact people with English as a second language, including foreign students, who may not fully understand Australian law,” Rickard said.
“Victims will often provide personal information to scammers, as they believe they are dealing with a government agency, and this can lead to identity theft or falling victim to further scams.”
Scamwatch has also recorded an increase in robo-calls impersonating government agencies, such as the Department of Home Affairs or Services Australia, which claim the victim is under investigation and to ‘Dial 1’ to speak to an investigator.
“Government departments will never send pre-recorded messages to your phone or threaten you with immediate arrest,” Rickard said.
“If you’re not sure whether a call is legitimate, hang up and call the organisation directly by finding their details through an independent search.
“Never send money or give credit card details or personal information to anyone you don’t know or trust and never by email or over the phone."