Australian Institute of Criminology

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Executive summary

Background

The Australasian Consumer Fraud Taskforce (ACFT) comprises 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 a range of fraud prevention and awareness-raising activities since 2006. One key activity of the ACFT is to hold an annual consumer fraud survey to obtain a snapshot of the public’s exposure to consumer scams, to assess their impact, to determine how victims respond and to identify emerging typologies and issues. As the survey participants were not randomly sampled, the survey findings are not representative of the general population.

The Australian Institute of Criminology (AIC) is a member of the ACFT and chair of the research sub-group. This report presents the results of the 2012 survey, which ran for three months commencing from 1 January 2012. This period encompassed National Fraud Prevention Week, which coincides with global awareness-raising activities. The theme of the 2012 campaign was Slam Scams! This theme aimed to raise awareness about scam delivery methods so that scams could be identified at the point of contact. The survey explored scams where respondents were contacted by phone, short message service (SMS), email, letter, via the internet and/or in person by someone who they did not know in relation to:

  • having won a lottery or some other prize (lottery scams);
  • a request for assistance to transfer money out of another country (such as Nigeria) (advance fee frauds);
  • a notification of an inheritance (inheritance scams);
  • a request by a business to confirm personal details or passwords (phishing scams);
  • a request to supply financial advice (financial advice scams);
  • an opportunity to work from home (a front for money laundering) (work from home scams);
  • pursuing a personal relationship that turned out to be false (dating scams);
  • a person representing themselves as someone from a computer support centre (computer support scams); and
  • other fraud types.

The survey was made available for completion on the AIC’s website. Participants who did not reside in Australia or New Zealand were excluded from the survey, as were invalid responses. In 2012, 1,576 participants completed the survey. Outliers, typically very large loss figures from respondents who appeared to have misunderstood the question, were removed from the analysis.

The 2012 survey suffered from a number of limitations that made it difficult to generalise its findings to the greater Australasian population, in particular the self-selection bias of the survey design. As the sample was not randomly selected, those who participated in the survey may be different from the general population.

Delivery of scams

The 2012 survey asked respondents about the types of scams they had received, as well as how the scam invitations had been delivered to them. Results indicated that:

  • Ninety-five percent of respondents reported having received at least one scam invitation in the 12 months preceding the survey.
  • The most common type of scams reported to have been received were lottery scams (received by 60% of the total sample), computer support centre scams (53%) and phishing scams (45%).
  • The least common type of scams received were dating or romance scams, reported by 13 percent of the total sample.
  • Email was the most common scam delivery method, with 72 percent of the sample reporting having received a scam this way.

Responding to scam invitations

Respondents reported that they had responded to scam invitations by requesting further information, providing personal details and/or suffering a financial loss. Key findings included:

  • Twenty-two percent of the respondents responded in some way to a scam invitation in the 12 months preceding the survey:
    • seven percent sent their personal details;
    • three percent of respondents reported a financial loss; and
    • five percent reported both sending their personal details and having experienced a financial loss.
  • The median amount reported lost to scams was $500. With outliers removed, a total financial loss of $846,170 was reported.
  • The top two reasons given for not responding to scam invitations were ‘had seen/heard this was a type of scam in the media or from a public source’ (55% of the total sample of 1,576) and ‘had received similar offers before and thought they were scams’ (55%).

Victim demographics

Victims were defined as respondents who had provided their personal details and/or suffered a financial loss as the result of replying to a scam invitation. Analysis of the demographic variables of scam victims indicated that:

  • Of those survey respondents who identified their gender (98%), 16.5 percent of females and 12.4 percent of males reported victimisation in 2012.
  • In 2012, respondents in the age categories who reported the highest percentage of victimisation were ‘35 to 44 years’ and ‘over 65 years’ (16.5% of total respondents within those age categories).
  • In 2012, respondents in the income category who reported the highest percentage of victimisation earned $20,000 to less than $40,000 (20% of total respondents within that income category).

Reporting scams

Respondents were asked whether they had reported scams to another person or organisation. Key findings included:

  • In 2012, 69 percent of the total sample reported a scam to at least one person or organisation.
  • Family and friends were the most common recipients of scam complaints, with 43 percent of the total sample reporting to this category in 2012.
  • The most common reasons provided for not reporting scams were ‘unsure of which agency to contact’ (40% of the total sample), ‘I didn’t think anything would be done’ (32%) and ‘not worth the effort’ (29%).
  • The most common reasons for reporting scams were ‘wanted to prevent others from being scammed’ (39% of the total sample), ‘knew it was the right thing to do’ (28%) and ‘to assistin the investigation of an offence’ (26%).

Perceptions of scams

Respondents were asked whether they considered each scam type to be ‘a crime’, ‘wrong but not a crime’, or just ‘something that happens’. The results indicated that:

  • In 2012, the top three scam types to be considered to be a crime by respondents were advance fee fraud (81%), phishing (81%) and computer support scams (79%).

Recommendations for future campaigns

The 2012 findings were used to develop recommendations for future education and awareness campaigns. It was suggested that future campaigns should focus on:

  • highlighting the use of new technologies, yet keeping people aware that scammers are adaptive and will find new ways to use older technology, such as the Computer Support Centre scams of 2011 and 2012;
  • awareness campaigns to educate members of the public around victimisation, in particular to encourage a change in societal attitudes towards victims of scams and online frauds; and
  • continuing to raise awareness of the importance of personal information in an age of identity crime and online transactions.