The Australasian Consumer Fraud Taskforce (ACFT) includes 22 government regulatory agencies and departments in Australia and New Zealand that work alongside private sector, community and non-government partners to prevent fraud. The ACFT has conducted arange of fraud prevention and awareness-raising activities since 2006. The Australian Institute of Criminology (AIC) is a member of the Taskforce and chair of the research subgroup.
One key activity of the AIC, on behalf of the Taskforce, is to host an annual consumer fraud survey to obtain a snapshot of the public’s exposure to consumer scams and fraud, collect and analyse this information to improve the prevention, detection, investigation and prosecution of scams.
If you would like to report a scam, discuss your participation or speak to someone about your experiences, the please call the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s SCAMwatch hotline on 1300 795 995 (for TTY services call 1300 303 609) or visit www.scamwatch.gov.au
Consumer scams are crimes of dishonesty such as forgery, counterfeiting, on-line deception, and theft that are targeted at people who seek to purchase goods and services. Potential victims can be those who use computers and the Internet, older people, those who use professional advisers, and people who use mobile phones. Often individuals suffer financial loss, although banks and companies also suffer financially where they lose business or are required to compensate people who have lost money.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) (2012: np) defined a scam as “a fraudulent invitation, request notification or offer designed to obtain someone’s personal information or money or otherwise obtain a financial benefit by deceptive means”. While the terms fraud and scam are often used interchangeably, scams are generally considered to be a fraud category, with fraud referring to matters involving dishonesty and deception (Hutchings & Lindley 2012). There are a range of consumer fraud activities that may be classified as scams.
Extent of consumer fraud in Australia
Although estimates have been made of the total cost of fraud and also identity-related fraud, wesimply do not know how many consumers are victimized through scams and how much money they have lost. Many consumers also don’t report their experiences to the police or authorities, which make calculations based on official crime statistics even less reliable.
The ABS (2012) estimated that a total of 1.2 million Australians aged 15 years and over were a victim of at least one incident of personal fraud in the 12 months prior to interview in 2010-11. This equates to a national victimisation rate for personal fraud of 6.7% of the population aged 15 years and over. This is an increase from the 806,000 victims of personal fraud in 2007 (5.0%). Australians lost $1.4 billion in 2010-11 due to personal fraud. Three in five victims of personal fraud (60% or 713,600 persons) lost money, an average of $2,000 per victim who incurred a financial loss (ABS 2012).
In 2011 the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission (ACCC) received 83,150 scam-related contacts from consumers and small businesses in Australia, which was over double the amount received from the 2010 period (ACCC 2012). Scam losses reported to the ACCC totaled over $85 million, with the ACCC noting that the actual losses were probably a lot higher as many scams go unreported or people may have reported victimisation to other agencies (ACCC 2012).
Results from the 2011 ACFT survey found that 94% of participants had received at least one scam in the previous 12 months, and of those that had received a scam invitation the most common type of scam received were lottery scams, however although dating and social networking scams were the least common scam invitations received they were the scam type to most likely to result in a financial loss (Hutchings & Lindley 2012).