Australian Institute of Criminology

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The 2012 consumer fraud survey results

Sample characteristics

Between 1 January and 31 March 2012, 1,593 people responded to the survey hosted on the AIC’s website (www.aic.gov.au). Seventeen respondents were removed as they did not reside in Australia or New Zealand, leaving 1,576 responses who formed the sample subject to analysis.

Seventy-six percent of respondents (n=1,205) reported that they completed the survey in their capacity as a member of the public. A further 15 percent (n=242) of respondents identified themselves as retirees. Fourteen respondents (0.9%) were members of the police, 21 (1.3%) were employed by an ACFT government agency, two respondents (0.1%) were employed by an ACFT private sector partner and 68 (4.3%) were employed by another government agency.

Websites were the most popular way respondents were directed to the survey, with government websites referring 526 respondents (33.4%) and the SCAMwatch site referring another 400 respondents (25.4%). The media generated 183 responses (11.6%), posters and pamphlets directed three respondents (0.2%) and 98 respondents (6.2%) were referred to the survey by another agency. A further 109 respondents (6.9%) found out about the survey through word of mouth.

Sixteen percent (n=253) were aware of the ACFT’s campaign and 14 percent (n=225) were aware of campaigns that had been run in previous years. Thirty-five respondents (2.2%) had completed the 2011 survey, 19 respondents (1.2%) had completed the 2010 survey, nine (0.6%) had completed the 2009 survey, eight (0.5%) had completed the 2008 survey and seven respondents (0.4%) had previously completed the 2007 survey.

There was an average of 121 responses a week in the 11 weeks prior to the 2012 campaign (n=1,328); 187 participants completed the survey during the week-long campaign, while the remaining 61 participants completed the survey in the week following the campaign.

Respondents were asked why they chose to complete the survey. Most respondents (n=1,168, 74.1%) wanted to ‘assist in research to combat scammers’. A further 631 participants (40.0%) completed the survey because ‘they had received scams, but not been scammed’; 271 respondents (17.6%) ‘wanted to learn more about scams’ and 231 respondents (14.7%) had ‘recently been scammed’.

Demographics

Females comprised 54.6 percent of the sample (n=861), while males comprised 43.4 percent of the sample (n=685). Thirty respondents (1.9%) did not disclose their gender. Table 2 shows the breakdown of respondents by their age group.

Table 2 Respondents by age
Age category (years) n %
17 and under 79 5.0
18–24 86 5.5
25–34 235 14.9
35–44 279 17.7
45–54 330 20.9
55–64 329 20.9
Over 65 224 14.2
Missing 14 0.9
Total 1,576 100

Source: ACFT Consumer Fraud Survey 2012 [AIC data file]

As shown in Figure 1, most respondents resided in New South Wales (29.6%, n=466), Victoria (20.2%, n=318), Queensland (17.4%, n=274) and Western Australia (9.5%, n=150). Thirty-one respondents (2.0%) resided in New Zealand. South Australia (7.7%, n=121), Tasmania (3.2%, n=51) and the Northern Territory (1.0%, n=16) were the least represented states and territories in Australia.

Figure 1 Respondents by location (%)

Respondents by location

Note: Percentages may not total 100 due to rounding

Source: ACFT Consumer Fraud Survey 2012 [AIC data file]

When asked about income, most respondents (n=421, 26.7%) responded that they would rather not disclose their income level and a further three percent (n=48) did not respond to the question. Most respondents (n=614, 38.9%) earned an income somewhere in the middle categories provided ($20,000 to $80,000), while 13.5 percent (n=213) earned less than $20,000 and 17.8 percent (n=280) earned in excess of $80,000 per annum. This is shown in Figure 2.

Figure 2 Respondents by annual income (%)

Respondents by annual income

Source: ACFT Consumer Fraud Survey 2012 [AIC data file]

Receiving scams

Of the 1,576 survey participants in 2012, 1,490 (94.5%) had received at least one scam invitation. The number and percentage of respondents who had received at least one scam invitation by scam type is provided in Table 3. Respondents may have received invitations for more than one scam type. The most common type of scams received, reported by 945 (60%) of the survey participants, were lottery scams. This was followed by computer support centre scams (received by 53.2% of survey participants and 56.2% of those who had received a scam invitation). The least likely type of scam invitation reported to have been received was dating scams, received by 207 of the survey respondents, representing 13.9 percent of the sample who had received a scam invitation and 13.1 percent of the total sample.

Table 3 Scam invitation received by scam type
Scam type Received scam invitation (n) Received a scam invitation (%) (n=1,490) Total sample (%) (n=1,576)
Lottery scams 945 63.4 60.0
Advance fee fraud 674 45.2 42.8
Inheritance scams 577 38.7 36.6
Phishing 709 47.6 45.0
Financial advice scams 360 24.2 22.8
Work from home scams 619 41.5 39.3
Dating scams 207 13.9 13.1
Computer support scams 838 56.2 53.2
Other 496 33.3 31.5

Source: ACFT Consumer Fraud Survey 2012 [AIC data file]

Details of the types of delivery methods by which respondents reported receiving scams are provided in Table 4. It is noted that participants could have received more than one scam invitation; therefore, multiple responses are recorded. Email was the most popular delivery method, with 75.7 percent of respondents who had received a scam invitation receiving at least one invite this way.

Table 4 Scams by delivery method
Method of delivery Received a scam invitation (n) Received a scam invitation (%) (n=1,490) Total sample (%) (n=1,576)
Mail 268 18.0 17.0
Email 1,128 75.7 71.6
Telephone 843 56.6 53.5
SMS 310 20.8 19.7
Internet site/social networking 320 21.5 20.3
Other 86 5.8 5.5

Source: ACFT Consumer Fraud Survey 2012 [AIC data file]

Respondents were asked how many times over the previous 12 months they had received scams by each delivery method. The responses are shown in Figure 3. The results indicate that email is not only the most common scam delivery method, but also that participants received multiple scams in this way.

Figure 3 Scams received by delivery method (n)

Scams received by delivery method

Source: ACFT Consumer Fraud Survey 2012 [AIC data file]

Responding to scams

During the 12 months prior to the survey, 350 (22.2%) of survey participants responded to a scam invitation by way of requesting further information, providing personal details or suffering a financial loss. This represented 23.5 percent of those who had received a scam invitation during the 12 month period.

Sixteen percent of the sample who had received an invitation sent their personal details, suffered a financial loss or both in response to at least one scam (n=231, 14.7% of the total sample). One hundred and six participants (7.1% of the sample who received a scam invitation and 6.7% of the total sample) sent their personal details only, 46 participants (3% of the sample who received a scam invitation and 2.9% of the total sample) suffered a financial loss only, and 79 participants (5.3% of the sample who received a scam invitation and 5% of the total sample) lost money as well as sent their personal details.

The number of respondents who provided personal details or lost money to each type of 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 is provided in Tables 5 and 6. Some respondents provided personal details and/or lost money as the result of multiple scams.

Table 5 Loss of personal details by scam type
Scam type Provided personal details (n) Received a scam invitation (%) (n=1,490) Total sample (%) (n=1,576) Received an invitation to that type of scam (%)
Lottery scams 28 1.9 1.8 3.0
Advance fee fraud 23 1.5 1.5 3.4
Inheritance scams 13 0.9 0.8 2.3
Phishing 35 2.3 2.2 4.9
Financial advice scams 14 0.9 0.9 3.9
Work from home scams 21 1.4 1.3 3.4
Dating scams 19 1.3 1.2 9.2
Computer support scams 37 2.5 2.3 4.4
Other 76 5.1 4.8 15.3

Source: ACFT Consumer Fraud Survey 2012 [AIC data file]

Table 6 Loss of money by scam type
Scam type Suffered a financial loss (n) Received a scam invitation (%) (n=1,490) Total sample (%) (n=1,576) Received an invitation to that type of scam (%)
Lottery scams 18 1.2 1.1 1.9
Advance fee fraud 15 1.0 1.0 2.2
Inheritance scams 7 0.5 0.4 1.2
Phishing 16 1.1 1.0 2.3
Financial advice scams 11 0.7 0.7 3.1
Work from home scams 14 0.9 0.9 2.3
Dating scams 19 1.3 1.2 9.2
Computer support scams 29 1.9 1.8 3.5
Other 56 3.8 3.6 11.3

Source: ACFT Consumer Fraud Survey 2012 [AIC data file]

Inheritance scams were the least likely to result in the reported loss of personal details and/or money. Dating scams continued to be among the most likely to lead to the loss of personal details or financial loss in relation to their prevalence, with nine percent of the sample who received a dating scam invitation reporting the loss of personal details and nine percent reporting a financial loss. In total, the financial loss due to dating scams alone was over $203,000—this amount was supplied from just 16 respondents.

Of the 231 victims who reported having suffered a financial loss, 108 (46.8%) disclosed the amount. This reportedly ranged from $3 to $1,000,000. With outliers removed ($1,000,000 reportedly lost due to a scam reported in the ‘other’ category), the reported financial loss totalled $846,170, ranging from $3 to $195,000 (mean=$7,908.13, median=$500.00).

Participants were able to select multiple responses when asked why they did not respond to scam invitations. Their responses are provided in Table 7. The most common reasons for not responding to scams included ‘had seen/heard this was a type of scam in the media or a public source (reported by 55.2% of the total sample), ‘had received similar offers before and thought they were scams’ (54.9% of the total sample), or ‘something was not quite right with the offer or invitation’ (53.9% of the total sample).

Table 7 Reasons for not responding to scams received
Reason for not responding n Received a scam invitation (%) (n=1,490) Total sample (%) (n=1,576)
Seemed too good to be true 775 52.0 49.2
Had received similar offers before and thought they were scams 865 58.1 54.9
Had seen/heard this was a type of scam in the media or a public source 870 58.4 55.2
Was told it was a scam by someone I knew 271 18.2 17.2
Someone I know has been a victim of a scam before 132 8.9 8.4
Wanted to respond but could not afford to participate 16 1.1 1.0
Something was not quite right with the offer or invitation 850 57.0 53.9
Offer was identified as spam/unsafe by internet filter 464 31.1 29.4
Other 257 17.2 16.3

Source: ACFT Consumer Fraud Survey 2012 [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 231 victims who had lost personal details or suffered a financial loss as the result of the scam, 142 (61.5%) identified themselves as female, 85 (36.8%) identified themselves as male and four (1.7%) declined to reveal their gender. Therefore, of the respondents who disclosed their gender, 16.5 percent of the 861 female respondents experienced victimisation, compared with 12.4 percent of the 685 males.

The age of victims, including the percentage of total respondents within that age category who reported being a victim, is displayed in Table 8.

Table 8 Victims by age in years
Age category (years) n % Respondents within that age category (%)
17 and under 11 4.8 13.9
18–24 14 6.1 16.3
25–34 25 10.8 10.6
35–44 46 19.9 16.5
45–54 54 23.4 16.4
55–64 43 18.6 13.1
Over 65 37 16.0 16.5
Missing 1 0.4 7.1

Source: ACFT Consumer Fraud Survey 2012 [AIC data file]

Table 9 shows victims’ annual income levels, as well as the percentage of total respondents within that income category who reported victimisation.

Table 9 Victims by annual income
Annual income n % Respondents within that income category (%)
Less than $20,000 41 17.7 19.2
$20,000–<$40,000 40 17.3 20.1
$40,000–<$60,000 40 17.3 17.7
$60,000–<$80,000 20 8.7 10.6
Over $80,000 34 14.7 12.1
I’d rather not say 54 23.4 12.8
Missing 2 0.9 4.2

Source: ACFT Consumer Fraud Survey 2012 [AIC data file]

Table 10 shows victims by the location in which they resided, as well as the percentage of total respondents within that location who reported victimisation. Most victims resided in New South Wales (n=66, 28.6% of the sample who reported victimisation), Queensland (n=50, 21.6% of the sample who reported victimisation) and Victoria (n=45, 19.5% of the sample who reported victimisation). Fourteen of the respondents residing in New Zealand reported victimisation. As there were 31 respondents from New Zealand, this resulted in a 45 percent victimisation rate of respondents from that location. Similarly, although only five victims resided in the Northern Territory, they comprised 31.3 percent of respondents from that location.

Table 10 Victims by location
Location n % Respondents within that location (%)
Australian Capital Territory 14 6.1 10.4
New South Wales 66 28.6 14.2
New Zealand 14 6.1 45.2
Northern Territory 5 2.2 31.3
Queensland 50 21.6 18.2
South Australia 14 6.1 11.6
Tasmania 4 1.7 7.8
Victoria 45 19.5 14.2
Western Australia 18 7.8 12.0
Missing 1 0.4 7.1

Note: Percentages may not total 100 due to rounding

Source: ACFT Consumer Fraud Survey 2012 [AIC data file]

Reporting scams

Almost 74 percent of respondents who had received a scam invitation reported it to at least one other person or organisation (n=1,094; 69.4% of the total sample). The reporting rate dropped to 51.7 percent of the sample who had received a scam invitation (n=770; 48.8% of the total sample) when friends and family were excluded. Friends and families were the most common recipients of scam complaints, as they were in previous years. Forty-six percent of those who received a scam invitation reported it to a friend or family member. Only 8.1 percent of respondents who had received a scam invitation reported it to the police, 8.2 percent reported it to the ACCC and 20.8 percent reported it to the SCAMwatch website. Table 11 details who complaints were made to; it is noted that respondents were permitted to select more than one option.

Table 11 Reporting of scams by agency
Organisation or person reported to n Received a scam invitation (%) (n=1,490) Total sample (%) (n=1,576)
Not reported to anyone 443 29.7 28.1
Family/friends 683 45.8 43.3
Police 120 8.1 7.6
SCAMwatch website (www.scamwatch.gov.au) 310 20.8 19.7
Australian Competition and Consumer Commission 122 8.2 7.8
The business represented (eg bank, eBay etc) 272 18.3 17.3
Internet Service Provider 90 6.0 5.7
Legal aid, a lawyer, or a community legal services clinic 11 0.7 0.7
Unable to recall 18 1.2 1.1
Other 210 14.1 13.3

Source: ACFT Consumer Fraud Survey 2012 [AIC data file]

Of the 231 respondents who reported falling victim to a scam, 192 (83.1%) reported scams to at least one other person or organisation. When friends and family were excluded, the reporting rate dropped to 72.3 percent (n=167) of the victim respondents who had reported to an external agency. Table 12 shows those organisations or persons victimisation was reported to, with respondents permitted to select more than one option. Victims were most likely to report scams to friends and family (48.5%), the SCAMwatch website (32.5%) and the business represented (27.7%). Policing agencies received complaints from 17.3 percent of victims and the ACCC received complaints from 15.2 percent. Respondents were given the option to provide other people or organisations that they have reported scams to and these ranged from ‘work IT departments’ to government departments and computer software organisations. Respondents also noted that when they realised acquaintances’ email or social networking sites had been hacked, they reported to the owners of the email address or person who created site.

Table 12 Reporting of victimisation by agency
Organisation or person reported to n Reported victimisation (%) (n=231)
Not reported to anyone 40 17.3
Family/friends 112 48.5
Police 40 17.3
SCAMwatch website (www.scamwatch.gov.au) 75 32.5
Australian Competition and Consumer Commission 35 15.2
The business represented (eg bank, eBay etc) 64 27.7
Internet Service Provider 15 6.5
Legal aid, a lawyer, or a community legal services clinic 9 3.9
Unable to recall 6 2.6
Other 44 19.0

Source: ACFT Consumer Fraud Survey 2012 [AIC data file]

Respondents were asked why they reported scams they had received to a formal agency. Participants could select more than one reason for reporting scams. The most common reasons for reporting a scam included ‘wanting to prevent others from being scammed’ (41.4% of sample who received a scam invitation) and ‘knew it was the right thing to do’ (29.4% of the sample who received a scam invitation). The responses are detailed in Table 13. Other reasons for reporting scams ranged from ‘wanting to get money back’ to wanting to garner greater publicity about the scam to warn others. Another respondent reported the scam as they felt it was ‘a breach of security that they have my details’.

Table 13 Reasons for reporting scams received
Reason for reporting scam invitation n Received a scam invitation (%) (n=1,490) Total sample (%) (n=1,576)
Desired the apprehension of offender(s) 340 22.8 21.6
Wanted to prevent others from being scammed 617 41.4 39.2
Knew it was the right thing to do 438 29.4 27.8
To assist in the investigation of an offence 414 27.8 26.3
To support your insurance claim 11 0.7 0.7
Other 81 5.4 5.1

Source: ACFT Consumer Fraud Survey 2012 [AIC data file]

Cited reasons for not reporting scam invitations are outlined in Table 14. The most commonly provided reasons included ‘unsure of which agency to contact’ (42.3% of the sample who had received a scam invitation) and ‘didn’t think anything would be done’ (34% of the sample who had received a scam invitation). It is noted that participants may have reported some scams but not others and may have had multiple reasons for not reporting. Respondents were given the option to supply their own reason for not reporting a scam. A recurring reason for those who received a scam invitation and did not report it was that ‘the scams were already well-known’. On respondent noted I ‘wondered if the report a scam email address was also a scam’ and several respondents advised that nothing had happened in the past when they had reported and so they no longer report scams.

Table 14 Reasons for not reporting scams received
Reason for not reporting n Received a scam invitation (%) (n=1,490) Total sample (%) (n=1,576)
Not worth the effort 456 30.6 28.9
Didn’t think it was illegal 65 4.4 4.1
Unsure of which agency to contact 630 42.3 40.0
Feared I would get into trouble 24 1.6 1.5
Didn’t think anything would be done 507 34.0 32.2
Receive too many to report 409 27.4 26.0
Other 218 14.6 13.8

Source: ACFT Consumer Fraud Survey 2012 [AIC data file]

The survey asked whether respondents had reported scams on behalf of anyone else. One hundred and eleven respondents (7%) indicated that they had. Table 15 indicates on whose behalf scams were reported, with participants permitted to select all options that applied to them.

Table 15 Scams reported on behalf of someone else
Scam reported on behalf of n Total sample (%) (n=1,576)
Child (son or daughter) 36 2.3
Older relative (brother/sister, parent, grandparent, aunt/uncle) 56 3.5
Younger relative (niece/nephew, brother/sister) 12 0.8
A friend 36 2.3
A colleague 18 1.1
A student (if you are a teacher or in some similar capacity) 3 0.2
Other 33 2.1

Source: ACFT Consumer Fraud Survey 2012 [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 permitted to select more than one response. The results are outlined in Table 16. Advance fee fraud and phishing were most likely to be considered a crime (by 80.9% and 80.5% of the sample respectively). Again, respondents were given the opportunity to provide their own responses in a ‘free text box’. Some of the responses demonstrate the need for greater education around victims of scams (eg ‘If you’re stupid enough to give your money away to these scammers, you don’t deserve it anyway, but I still think that it is a crime’). These types of responses indicate that, while people understand the illegal nature of fraud and scams, the financial and emotional impact that scams may have on victims is perhaps not fully appreciated.

Table 16 Perceptions of scams by scam type
Scam type A crime Wrong but not a crime Just something that happens
n % n % n %
Lottery scams 1,036 65.7 321 20.4 92 5.8
Advance fee fraud 1,275 80.9 113 7.2 41 2.6
Inheritance scams 1,073 68.1 285 18.1 57 3.6
Phishing 1,269 80.5 120 7.6 31 2.0
Financial advice scams 739 46.9 508 32.2 154 9.8
Work from home scams 1,061 67.3 232 14.7 111 7.0
Dating scams 809 51.3 476 30.2 103 6.5
Computer support scams 1,238 78.6 184 11.7 49 3.1
Other 664 42.1 124 7.9 124 7.9

Source: ACFT Consumer Fraud Survey 2012 [AIC data file]

The perception of scams by respondents who reported victimisation from that scam type was also explored. Again, it is noted that participants could select more than one response. The results are outlined in Table 17. Advance fee fraud was most likely to be considered a crime by victims of this scam. It should be noted that some respondents chose to not respond to the questions.

Table 17 Perceptions of scams by respondents who reported victimisation by scam type
Scam type A crime Wrong but not a crime Just something that happens
n % n % n %
Lottery scams (n=36) 33 91.7 1 2.8 2 5.6
Advance fee fraud (n=29) 27 93.1 2 7.1 0 0.0
Inheritance scams (n=16) 14 87.5 1 6.3 1 6.3
Phishing (n=40) 32 80.0 2 5.0 5 12.5
Financial advice scams (n=20) 12 60.0 6 30.0 2 10.0
Work from home scams (n=28) 19 67.9 5 17.9 2 7.1
Dating scams (n=26) 20 76.9 5 19.2 0 0.0
Computer support scams (n=48) 42 87.5 3 6.3 2 4.2
Other (n=100) 59 59.0 6 6.0 8 8.0

Source: ACFT Consumer Fraud Survey 2012 [AIC data file]