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The 2010 consumer fraud survey results

Online offensive—Fighting fraud online

The ACFT’s 2010 annual education and awareness campaign ran from 1 to 7 March. The theme of the 2010 campaign was Online Offensive—Fighting Fraud Online. It aimed to raise awareness of online consumer fraud in Australasia and to alert the increasing number of people using the Internet about scams, which may be more prevalent as more people gain online access (ACCC 2011d).

Sample characteristics

Between 1 January and 31 March 2010, 249 people responded to the survey hosted on the AIC’s website (www.aic.gov.au). One respondent was removed from the analysis, having submitted an incomplete response. A further two respondents were removed as they did not reside in Australia or New Zealand. This left 246 responses that formed the sample and were subject to analysis. Compared with previous years, the 2010 consumer fraud survey received substantially fewer responses (2010 n=246; 2009 n=692, 2008 n=919). This decline may be due to the lack of media coverage surrounding the 2010 survey.

Eighty-four percent (n=206) of respondents reported that they completed the survey as a member of the public. A further 10.6 percent (n=26) of respondents were reportedly employed by a government agency, but only 3.3 percent (n=8) identified that they were employed by ACFT-member government agencies. Two (0.8%) respondents identified that they were members of a policing agency.

Links provided on websites was the most common way respondents were directed to the survey, with 39 percent (n=96) following the links from a government website and 27.2 percent (n=67) directed from the SCAMwatch website. Word of mouth and the media accounted for 6.1 percent (n=15) and 4.5 percent (n=11) of respondents respectively.

Nineteen percent (n=47) of respondents were aware of the 2010 ACFT fraud awareness campaign and 9.8 percent (n=24) were aware of the ACFT campaigns held in previous years. A small group of respondents had participated in previous ACFT fraud surveys—12 (4.9%) in 2009; seven (2.8 %) in 2008; and five (2%) in 2007 and 2006.

In the eight weeks prior to the 2010 campaign, 124 participants completed the survey, averaging 15.5 responses per week; 56 participants completed the survey during the week-long campaign; while the remaining 66 participants completed the survey in the four weeks following the campaign, averaging 16.5 responses per week. It would therefore seem reasonable to conclude that the campaign had a positive impact on participation rates, along with the associated media coverage published at the start of the week-long campaign.

Demographics

Table 2 shows the breakdown of respondents by age group. Over half of the respondents (55.3%, n=136) were aged over 45 years. Gender was distributed fairly evenly, with 53.7 percent (n=132) of respondents identifying as female and 41.9 percent (n=103) as male; 4.5 percent (n=11) of respondents did not answer this question.

Table 2: Respondents by age, 2010
Age category (yrs) n %
17 and under 9 3.7
18–24 22 8.9
25–34 34 13.8
35–44 36 14.6
45–54 71 28.9
55–64 43 17.5
Over 65 22 8.9
Missing 9 3.7
Total 246 100.0

Source: ACFT Consumer Fraud Survey 2010 [AIC data file]

As shown in Figure 1, the majority of respondents came from Western Australia (33.3%, n=82), New South Wales (27.6%, n=68) and Victoria (15%, n=37). Only one respondent (0.4%) resided in New Zealand. Tasmania (0.4%, n=1), the Northern Territory (2%, n=5) and South Australia (2.4%, n=6) were the least represented states and territories in Australia.

Figure 1: Respondents by region, 2010 (%)

Note: Percentages may not total 100 due to rounding

Source: ACFT Consumer Fraud Survey 2010 [AIC data file]

There was a fairly even distribution across the reported annual income levels of respondents, with 17.9% (n=44) of respondents earning less than $20,000 and 15.4% (n=38) of respondents earning more than $80,000 per annum (see Figure 2). Almost one-quarter of respondents (23.2%, n=57) advised that they would rather not disclose their income level, while a further 5.3 percent (n=13) did not respond to this question.

Figure 2: Respondents by annual income, 2010 (%)

Source: ACFT Consumer Fraud Survey 2010 [AIC data file]

Receiving scams

In 2010, 89 percent (n=219) of survey respondents had received at least one scam invitation in the previous 12 months. Table 3 shows the number and percentage of respondents who received at least one invitation by fraud type. It is noted that respondents may have received invitations for multiple scams. The most commonly received scam types were lottery scams (received by 63% of the sample who received a scam invitation), followed by advance fee frauds (received by 57.5% of the sample who received a scam invitation). The least commonly received scam type was dating scams, received by only 21 percent of the sample who received a scam invitation.

Table 3: Scam invitation received by type, 2010
Scam type Received scam invitation (n) Received a scam invitation (%) (n=219) Total sample (%) (n=246)
Lottery scams 138 63.0 56.1
Advance fee fraud 126 57.5 51.2
Inheritance scams 100 45.7 40.7
Phishing 123 56.2 50.0
Financial advice scams 65 29.7 26.4
Work from home scams 115 52.5 46.8
Dating scams 46 21.0 18.7
Other 88 40.2 35.8

Source: ACFT Consumer Fraud Survey 2010 [AIC data file]

Table 4 shows the number and percentage of respondents by the various types of delivery methods. Email was the most common scam delivery method, with over three-quarters (75.6%) of respondents receiving an invitation via this medium and 84.9 percent of respondents who had received at least one scam invitation solicited this way. Respondents may have received scam invitations through multiple methods of delivery.

Table 4: Scams by delivery method, 2010
Method of delivery Received scam invitation (n) Received a scam invitation (%) (n=219) Total sample (%) (n=246)
Mail 44 20.1 17.9
Email 186 84.9 75.6
Phone 36 16.4 14.6
SMS/Mobile 29 13.2 11.8
Internet 27 12.3 11.0
Other 11 5.0 4.5

Source: ACFT Consumer Fraud Survey 2010 [AIC data file]

Responding to scams

Overall, 72 survey participants responded to a scam during the 12 months prior to the survey, representing 32.9 percent of those who received a scam invitation and 29.3 percent of the total sample. Responding positively included requesting further information, as well as providing personal details or losing money.

Forty-three participants reported that they sent their personal details in response to at least one scam invitation (17.5% of the total sample and 19.6% of the sample who had received a scam invitation), while 27 participants lost money as the result of a scam (11% of the total sample and 12.3% of the sample who had received a scam invitation). Of these, 23 participants had lost money as well as sent their personal details; therefore, 47 participants (19.1% of the total sample and 21.5% of the sample who had received a scam invitation) had suffered a financial loss and/or loss of personal details. Tables 5 and 6 show the number of respondents who provided personal details or lost money to each scam, as well as the percentage of the total sample, the percentage of the sample who received any type of scam and the percentage of the sample who received that particular type of scam invitation. It is noted that some respondents provided personal details and/or lost money as the result of multiple scams.

Table 5: Loss of personal details by scam type, 2010
Scam type Provided personal details (n) Received a scam invitation (%) (n=219) Total sample (%) (n=246) Received an invitation to that type of scam (%)
Lottery scams 6 2.7 2.4 4.3
Advance fee fraud 4 1.8 1.6 3.2
Inheritance scams 1 0.5 0.4 1.0
Phishing 4 1.8 1.6 3.3
Financial advice scams 4 1.8 1.6 6.2
Work from home scams 6 2.7 2.4 5.2
Dating scams 9 4.1 3.7 19.6
Other 23 10.5 9.3 26.1

Source: ACFT Consumer Fraud Survey 2010 [AIC data file]

Table 6: Loss of money by scam type, 2010
Scam type Suffered a financial loss (n) Received a scam invitation (%) (n=219) Total sample (%) (n=246) Received an invitation to that type of scam (%)
Lottery scams 4 1.8 1.6 2.9
Advance fee fraud 1 0.5 0.4 0.8
Inheritance scams 1 0.5 0.4 1.0
Phishing 1 0.5 0.4 0.8
Financial advice scams 2 0.9 0.8 3.1
Work from home scams 6 2.7 2.4 5.2
Dating scams 6 2.7 2.4 13.0
Other 14 6.4 5.7 15.9

Source: ACFT Consumer Fraud Survey 2010 [AIC data file]

Participants were least likely to disclose personal details or lose money as the result of advance fee fraud, inheritance scams or phishing; however, these were reportedly three of the top five scam invitations that respondents reported receiving in the previous 12 months. Dating scams, although the least likely to be received by participants (see Table 3), were among the most likely to lead to the loss of personal details or a financial loss.

Of the 27 respondents who had suffered a financial loss as the result of a scam, 26 disclosed the amount. Amounts lost ranged from $92 to $614,200 (mean=$28,849, median=$1,065). The total amount reportedly sent to scammers by the survey participants was $750,074. However, the highest amount sent, $614,200, was sent overseas in response to a request for financial assistance. This example was reported by a male under the age of 18 years, therefore there is concern as to the accuracy of the report. With this outlier removed, the mean financial loss declined from $28,849 to $5,226.

Most participants did not send money or personal details in their first response to the scammer, with 27 of the 53 (50.9%) respondents who answered the question only providing this after being in contact with the scammer between two and 10 times. Three participants (5.6%) were in contact between 11 and 20 times, seven (13.2%) were in contact more than 20 times and three (5.6%) could not recall how many times they had contacted the scammer before providing the personal details or money.

Participants were asked why they did not respond to scam invitations. Their responses are provided in Table 7. As respondents were allowed to select multiple reasons for not responding, the total exceeds 246. While the majority of participants did not respond due to the characteristics of the scam (eg 49.3% thought the offer seemed too good to be true and 51.1% thought something was not quite right with the offer or invitation), 42 percent identified the invitation as a scam due to media or public source information, highlighting the importance of public awareness campaigns in preventing victimisation. Over half of the participants who had received a scam invitation (50.2%) advised that they did not respond as they had received similar offers before and thought they were scams. Along with the finding identified above that some of the most commonly received scams are least likely to elicit a response, it appears that internet users are becoming familiar with the most frequently used techniques used by scammers.

Table 7: Reasons for not responding to scams received, 2010
Reason for not responding n Received a scam invitation (%) (n=219) Total sample (%) (n=246)
Seemed too good to be true 108 49.3 43.9
Had received similar offers before and thought they were scams 110 50.2 44.7
Had seen/heard this was a type of scam in the media or a public source 92 42.0 37.4
Was told it was a scam by someone I knew 24 11.0 9.8
Someone I know has been a victim of a scam before 14 6.4 5.7
Wanted to respond but could not afford to participate 11 5.0 4.5
Something was not quite right with the offer or invitation 112 51.1 45.5
Other 44 20.1 17.9

Source: ACFT Consumer Fraud Survey 2010 [AIC data file]

Victim demographics

For the purpose of this report, scam victims were defined as those who had provided scammers with their personal details and/or suffered a financial loss as the result of a scam. Of the 47 reported victims, 28 (59.6%) identified themselves as female and 16 (34%) as male. Three (6.4%) victim respondents declined to reveal their gender. Therefore, of the 235 survey respondents who disclosed their gender, 21.2 percent of the females experienced victimisation compared with 15.5 percent of the male respondents.

Table 8 shows the age groups of victims, as well as the percentage of total respondents within that age category who reported victimisation. Respondents between the ages of 45 to 64 years were most likely to report being a victim of a scam, with 28.2 percent of total respondents aged 45 to 54 years and 23.3 percent of total respondents aged 55 to 64 years reporting that they had lost personal details or suffered a financial loss. Of the reported victims, 42.6 percent were in the 45 to 54 year age category.

Table 8: Victims by age, 2010
Age category (yrs) n % Respondents within that age category (%)
17 and under 1 2.1 11.1
18–24 1 2.1 4.5
25–34 6 12.8 17.6
35–44 5 10.6 13.9
45–54 20 42.6 28.2
55–64 10 21.3 23.3
Over 65 2 4.3 9.1
Missing 2 4.3 22.2

Note: Percentages may not total 100 due to rounding.

Source: ACFT Consumer Fraud Survey 2010 [AIC data file]

Table 9 shows the annual income levels of victims, as well as the percentage of total respondents within that income category who reported victimisation. Respondents earning between $20,000 and less than $40,000 per annum were most likely to report being a victim of a scam, with 40 percent of total respondents who had that income level losing personal details or suffering a financial loss. Of the reported victims, over one-quarter (25.5%) were in this income category.

Table 9: Victims by annual income, 2010
Annual income n % Total respondents within that income category (%)
Less than $20,000 6 12.8 13.6
$20,000–<$40,000 12 25.5 40.0
$40,000–<$60,000 7 14.9 18.9
$60,000–<$80,000 7 14.9 25.9
Over $80,000 7 14.9 18.4
I’d rather not say 5 10.6 8.8
Missing 3 6.4 23.1

Source: ACFT Consumer Fraud Survey 2010 [AIC data file]

Table 10 shows victims by the region in which they resided, as well as the percentage of total respondents within that region who reported victimisation. Nearly one-third (31.9%) of victims resided in Western Australia, with a further 21.3 percent residing in New South Wales. Half (50%) of the six respondents who resided in South Australia reported falling victim to a scam. The one respondent in New Zealand had also provided personal details or suffered a financial loss as the result of a scam, while the respondent from Tasmania had not.

Table 10: Victims by region, 2010
Region n % Total respondents within that region (%)
Australian Capital Territory 1 2.1 7.7
New South Wales 10 21.3 14.7
New Zealand 1 2.1 100.0
Northern Territory 1 2.1 20.0
Queensland 6 12.8 26.1
South Australia 3 6.4 50.0
Tasmania 0 0.0 0.0
Victoria 8 17.0 21.6
Western Australia 15 31.9 18.3
Missing 2 4.3 20.0

Source: ACFT Consumer Fraud Survey 2010 [AIC data file]

Reporting scams

The majority of those who had received a scam invitation reported it to at least one other person or organisation (n=178, 81.3% of sample who had received a scam invitation and 72.4% of the total sample). Eight respondents (3.3% of the total sample) could not recall whether they had reported a scam invitation(s). Table 11 shows those organisations or persons that scam invitations were reported to, with respondents permitted to select more than one option. Family and friends were most common recipients of scam complaints, with almost half (46.6%) of the sample who had received a scam invitation reporting to this category. Policing agencies were among the least likely to be reported to, with just 13.2 percent of those who had received a scam invitation selecting this category and 3.2 percent selecting the Australian High Tech Crime Centre (now Australian Federal Police High Tech Crime Operations).

Table 11: Reporting of victimisation by agency, 2010
Organisation or person reported to n Received a scam invitation (%) (n=219) Total sample (%) (n=246)
Family/friends 102 46.6 41.5
Police agencies 29 13.2 11.8
Consumer Affairs or Fair Trading agency 75 34.2 30.5
Australian High Tech Crime Centre 7 3.2 2.8
The business represented (eg bank, eBay etc) 54 24.7 22.0
Internet Service Provider 21 9.6 8.5
Legal aid, a lawyer, or a community legal services clinic 4 1.8 1.6
Unable to recall 8 3.7 3.3
Other 41 18.7 16.7

Source: ACFT Consumer Fraud Survey 2010 [AIC data file]

Twenty-four of the 27 respondents who reported a financial loss (88.9%) and 40 of the 43 respondents who reported loss of personal details (93.0%) reported it to at least one other person or organisation. When friends and family were excluded, 20 respondents (74.1%) reported their financial loss and 35 respondents (81.4%) reported loss of personal details to an external agency. Table 12 shows those organisations or persons victimisation was reported to, with respondents permitted to select more than one option. It is noted that policing agencies received reports from less than one-third of victims (29.6% of those who experienced a financial loss and 32.6% of those who lost personal details).

Table 12: Reporting of financial loss or loss of personal details by agency, 2010
Organisation or person reported to Reported a financial loss Reported loss of personal details
n Reported a financial loss (%) (n=27) n Reported loss of personal details (%) (n=43)
Family/friends 14 51.9 22 51.2
Police agencies 8 29.6 14 32.6
Consumer Affairs or Fair Trading agency 10 37.0 19 44.2
Australian High Tech Crime Centre 1 3.7 2 4.7
The business represented (eg bank, eBay etc) 10 37.0 12 27.9
Internet Service Provider 4 14.8 5 11.6
Legal aid, a lawyer, or a community legal services clinic 2 7.4 3 7.0
Unable to recall 1 3.7 1 2.3
Other 7 25.9 10 23.3

Source: ACFT Consumer Fraud Survey 2010 [AIC data file]

Reasons for not reporting scam invitations were provided by 141 participants (57.3% of the total sample and 64.4% of the sample who received a scam invitation). It is noted that participants may have reported some scams but not others and had multiple reasons for not reporting, therefore, totals do not add to 246. Reasons for not reporting scam invitations are outlined in Table 13.

Table 13: Reasons for not reporting scams, 2010
Reason for not reporting n Received a scam invitation (%) (n=219) Total sample (%) (n=246)
Not worth the effort 55 25.1 22.4
Didn’t think it was illegal 9 4.1 3.7
Unsure of which agency to contact 61 27.9 24.8
Feared I would get into trouble 5 2.3 2.0
Didn’t think anything would be done 72 32.9 29.3
Other 36 16.4 14.6

Source: ACFT Consumer Fraud Survey 2010 [AIC data file]

Perceptions of scams

Respondents were asked how they perceived each scam type. They were asked to indicate whether they considered each scam type as a crime, wrong but not a crime, or just something that happens. Respondents were also provided with a don’t know option and were permitted to select more than one response. The results are outlined in Table 14. While advance fee fraud and phishing scams were most likely to be considered a crime (by 74.4% and 73.2% of the sample respectively), financial advice and work from home scams were more likely to be considered wrong but not a crime, or just something that happens.

Table 14: Perceptions of scams by scam type, 2010
Scam type A crime Wrong but not a crime Just something that happens Don’t know
n % n % n % n %
Lottery scams 149 60.6 50 20.3 14 5.7 10 4.1
Advance fee fraud 183 74.4 27 11.0 3 1.2 6 2.4
Inheritance scams 139 56.5 47 19.1 16 6.5 15 6.1
Phishing 180 73.2 23 9.3 7 2.8 8 3.3
Financial advice scams 80 32.5 80 32.5 40 16.3 14 5.7
Work from home scams 63 25.6 83 33.7 51 20.7 17 6.9
Dating scams 112 45.5 66 26.8 20 8.1 13 5.3
Other 110 44.7 26 10.6 7 2.8 37 15.0

Source: ACFT Consumer Fraud Survey 2010 [AIC data file]

The perceptions of scams by respondents who had provided personal details and/or suffered a financial loss that resulted from that particular type of scam were also explored. Again, it is noted that participants could select more than one response. The results are outlined in Table 15. Dating and phishing scams were most likely to be considered a crime by those who had lost money or personal details (90% and 100% respectively). Least likely to be considered a crime by those who had lost finances or personal details were work from home scams (25%).

Table 15: Perceptions of scams by respondents who reported victimisation by scam type, 2010
Scam type A crime Wrong but not a crime Just something that happens Don’t know
n % n % n % n %
Lottery scams (n=7) 4 57.1 1 25.0 0 0.0 1 14.3
Advance fee fraud (n=4) 2 50.0 1 25.0 0 0.0 1 25.0
Inheritance scams (n=2) 1 50.0 0 0.0 0 0.0 0 0.0
Phishing (n=5) 5 100.0 0 0.0 0 0.0 0 0.0
Financial advice scams (n=4) 2 50.0 0 0.0 1 25.0 0 0.0
Work from home scams (n=8) 2 25.0 5 62.5 2 25.0 1 12.5
Dating scams (n=10) 9 90.0 1 10.0 0 0.0 0 0.0
Other (n=25) 16 64.0 4 16.0 1 4.0 2 8.0

Source: ACFT Consumer Fraud Survey 2010 [AIC data file]