Investment, dating scams tricked Australians out of $229 million in 2015
A rise in the sophistication of scammers trapping victims into bogus investment schemes helped Australians lose $229 million to scams in 2015.
Investment scams cost Australians $41 million last year
$6.3 million of that was lost by victims over the age of 55
$55 million was lost last year to romance and dating scams
For the first time, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has collated its scam data with the Australian Cybercrime Online Reporting Network (ACORN) to give a clearer picture of just how much Australians are being ripped off.
ACCC deputy chair Delia Rickard said the combined data showed investment scams caused $41 million in losses, with $6.3 million lost by victims over the age of 55.
"Investment scams come in many different guises including business ventures, superannuation schemes, managed funds and the sale or purchase of shares or property," she told the ABC.
"One of the reasons is Australia has been in a low interest rate environment for quite some period now, and retirees or those approaching retirement are really concerned about how they can grow their retirement fund, so we think that may be making them more vulnerable to scams.
"We also think that scammers target countries like Australia, they're aware of our superannuation schemes, they realise people have money to invest later in life and that we're a wealthy country."
Scammers preying on Australians looking for love
Dating and romance scams are still causing big headaches for victims and authorities, with $55 million lost last year.
Scammers using dating sites to attract their victims are often referred to as "catfish".
The ACCC said dating and romance scams, combined with investment scams, accounted for half of the money lost by people in the over-55 age group.
"Forty per cent of the scam losses last year were to people over the age of 55," Ms Rickard said.
Most of the dating and romance scams are being run out of Nigeria and Malaysia, while it is believed most investment scams are being run from Asia.
"There have been occasions where they've been operated from Australia but on the whole they seem to be based overseas," Ms Rickard said.
The average amount lost to scammers is $8,000, with eight people being scammed more than $1 million in 2015.
Online scams continue to trick victims
Forty per cent of victims were contacted by scammers over the phone, while 27 per cent were contacted via email.
Small business owner Melissa Testa, from Mildura in north-west Victoria, was scammed when she was sent a fake invoice.
How to prevent ransomware attacks:
Use spam filters and be cautious when opening emails, especially if there are attachments
Make sure you are using a reputable, up-to-date security product
Make sure your operating system and applications are up to date and fully patched
Run a regular scan of your computer
Set and use strong and unique passwords
Back up your data
Source: Stay Smart Online
"When I went back to the main screen everything was black, and it was normally blue, and there was writing behind all the icons and it said 'you have been held to ransom, you need to pay Bitcoins that are $375 US dollars and we will restore all your files, and that was it really."
The computer held business files and precious photos of Mrs Testa's late husband.
After trying to get help from a local IT business, the computer was still locked. Her son Damian, a computer science student, unsuccessfully spent three hours trying to unlock the computer.
Mrs Testa eventually paid the money and the computer was unlocked 10 minutes later.
"I thought well I'd rather just spend a bit over $400 to get it back than do nothing at all, and I think because it's such a low amount, most people would do the same. I think if they'd said $10,000 people would say well bugger it."
The ACCC's Ms Rickard said scammers fell into two categories.
"There's the mass-volume, low-gain scam, where the losses tend to be in the hundreds, and then you've got the more sophisticated scams like the investment scams and romance scams," she said.
If you have been contacted by scammers go to www.scamwatch.gov.au