Australian Institute of Criminology

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Method

The ACFT online surveys have been designed to examine the types of consumer fraud that respondents were exposed to during the previous 12 months. The surveys sought to measure:

  • the extent of consumer scams;
  • the types of frauds or scams that attracted the most victims;
  • the factors relevant to victimisation; and
  • what affects reporting of scams.

Each year, between 1 January and 31 March, an anonymous online survey hosted by the AIC has been used to collect data. This timeframe was chosen to correspond with the ACFT fraud awareness campaign of each year (which ran from 19 to 25 March in 2012), as well as to collect data before and after the campaign period to assess the impact of the campaign on participation rates.

The online survey method is considered the most cost-effective way to gather information on consumer fraud in Australia and New Zealand as it is accessible to a large public audience and does not involve any administration costs such as postage or interview expenses. It also allows respondents to remain anonymous, which is considered advantageous as the survey asked questions about personal experience and possible victimisation.

The online survey was advertised in a variety of forums, including as a hyperlink via the SCAMwatch website, through government agency websites, via posters and pamphlets and through the media. ACFT members were asked to publicise the survey internally and SCAMwatch employees allowed callers to the SCAMwatch hotline to complete the survey over the phone.

Survey questions

The survey contained a mixture of closed responses and open-ended, qualitative questions about respondent’s exposure to, and victimisation as a result of, consumer scams (see Appendix 1). These questions were developed in consultation with the ACFT committee members. Information was sought on the following consumer scams:

  • lottery scams;
  • advance fee fraud;
  • inheritance scams;
  • phishing;
  • financial advice scams;
  • work from home scams;
  • dating scams; and
  • computer support scams.

An ‘other’ response category was also included to capture additional scams. Questions related to respondents’ experience of consumer fraud in the 12 months prior to the survey, as well as their personal demographics and awareness of ACFT activities.

There were two substantial changes to the 2012 survey compared with previous years. The first change was the inclusion of computer support scams as a scam category. The second change was an additional question that requested a postcode for respondents who indicated that they resided in Australia.

Media coverage

A search of media databases for the periods 1 January 2012 to 31 March 2012 found nine newspaper articles inviting readers to participate in the survey. These were:

  • The Canberra Times 2012. Dob in a scammer. The Canberra Times 20 January.
  • The Manning River Times 2012. Scam survey. The Manning River Times 1 February.
  • Chamberlain S 2012. Scams under the spotlight. Daily Liberal and Macquarie Advocate 2 February.
  • Dubbo Daily Liberal 2012. Government declares war on weeds. Dubbo Daily Liberal 2 February.
  • McCarthy J 2012. Too good to be true. Newcastle Herald 4 February.
  • Canterbury Bankstown Express 2012. Near you news from your suburb. Canterbury Bankstown Express 7 February.
  • Macarthur Chronicle 2012. Help turn tables on fraudsters. Macarthur Chronicle 7 February.
  • The Express 2012. Help lift lid on scammers. The Express 7 February.
  • Pryor P 2012. How to beat the web of deceit. The Sun-Herald 26 February.

Radio interviews conducted with AIC staff in 2012 also promoted the survey and sought respondents. These included an interview with Graeme Stewart on ABC Radio North New South Wales on 24 January 2012 and interviews with Leon Delaney on Radio 2SM Sydney, Jorian Gardner on Radio 2CC Canberra and Red Symons on ABC Radio Melbourne, all on 17 January 2012.

Additional media reports during the week-long campaigns that did not mention the survey may have nevertheless generated visits to the websites where links to the survey were provided. A search of media databases identified 41 additional newspaper articles that discussed consumer fraud published between 19 to 25 March 2012 (refer to Appendix 2).

Limitations of the survey

The 2012 AIC survey experienced the same methodological constraints as those identified in previous years (see Budd & Anderson, 2010; Hutchings & Lindley 2012; Smith & Akman, 2008). Limitations associated with the relatively small sample sizes and the self-selection bias of the samples make generalising the findings to the wider population problematic, particularly as those who have received a scam invitation and/or fallen victim may be more likely to complete the survey than those who have not. Directly completing the survey was also limited to those who had computer access, however, this was not considered overly restrictive, as SCAMwatch employees were able to fill out survey over the phone on the client’s behalf.

It can be difficult to measure fraud incidents within a given timeframe as it is not always easy to determine when fraud occurs due to the time lapse between when they are received or carried out, identified by the victim and then reported (if indeed they are). The reference period for the 2012 AIC online survey was the previous 12 months and respondents were asked about whether they had received and responded to scams in this time. It is possible that some incidents may have begun before this time period and these may have been missed by the survey questions. As a result, the survey results cannot provide a robust measurement of consumer fraud victimisation rates in Australasia, nor of the success of the 2012 Fraud Awareness week. The results are also unable to identify whether the campaign increased people’s awareness of consumer frauds or scams.

Despite these limitations, the annual survey is a valuable tool to inform policymakers and the public about what is happening in the scam threat landscape. The report provides context to scam invitations that do not result in the loss of personal information or a direct financial loss, as well as outlining actual victimisation. The results of the survey are another way that people can be educated about the types of scams that they may face and the survey collects information about how scams are perceived by the public.

Analysis of results

Due to the limitations of the data as outlined above, descriptive statistics were predominantly used to report the results, particularly frequency distributions and percentages. As the survey was designed to capture information relating to respondents residing in Australia or New Zealand, respondents who indicated they resided elsewhere were excluded from the sample. Outliers, typically very large loss figures from respondents who appeared to have misunderstood the question, were removed for the analysis. In the following sections, the key results from the 2012 ACFT survey are presented.