The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission's annual Targeting Scams report has revealed a 47 per cent increase in scam reports in the last year - a record high.
The ACCC's Scamwatch and the Australian Cybercrime Online Reporting Network received a combined 200,000 reports about scams costing people $299.8 million - with a "sharp increase" in dating and romance scams through social media sites, in particular Facebook.
Australians aged over 55 accounted for 45 per cent of reports to Scamwatch. Investment scams accounted for the most losses with combined reports to Scamwatch and ACORN totalling $59 million. Dating and romance scams accounted for the next highest losses, with a combined $42 million lost.
The ACCC's Targeting Scams report has been released to launch the Australasian Consumer Fraud Taskforce's Fraud Week. This year's theme, "Spot social media scams", aims to create awareness among Australians about new social media scams that are being reported, what to look for and how people can avoid being scammed.
"This Fraud Week, we're asking the millions of Australians who use social media to be aware that scammers are increasingly using social media platforms as a way to contact, trick and prey upon the unsuspecting," ACCC Deputy Chair Delia Rickard said. "We have witnessed a sharp increase in scams taking place through social media sites. It can be really hard to tell who's genuine and who’s fake these days."
The two most common social media scams Australians reported to Scamwatch were dating and romance and fake trader scams. Around 30 per cent of dating and romance scam victims (1352 people) who reported to Scamwatch were contacted via social media sites, in particular Facebook.
"Dating and romance scammers trick their victims into falling in love with them and then use their victim's trust to deceitfully take their money," Ms Rickard said. "If someone you've met through social media but you've never met in person asks you for money, your alarm bells should be ringing. Don't ever wire transfer or send money to someone you don't know because you won't see it again."
Fake trader scams are also on the increase. Victims often report seeing advertisements for online stores on social media selling discounted products made by well-known brands. These online stores are fake and the products victims think they are buying don’t exist.
Ms Rickard said this type of scam is even harder to spot, but there are some tips people can use.
"Wherever you see an offer that seems more generous than normal, do your research on the company, where the product is coming from, check the company’s website and try and find any reviews about the business before making a purchase. Only pay using secure payment methods such as Paypal or a credit card," Ms Rickard said.
Ms Rickard said the majority of reports to Scamwatch about scams via social media were taking place on Facebook.
"The ACCC is working with Facebook, as well as the major banks, MoneyGram, Paypal, Western Union and Apple to better tackle scams and reduce the harm experienced by consumers," Ms Rickard said.
The best defence against scams is education and awareness. If you are concerned about scams you should visit ScamWatch to keep up to date with scams to look out for, report scam activity, and get information about what to do if you become a scam victim.