Despite education campaigns, Australians are falling harder for scams than ever

Fraud, business email compromise, and phishing remain among scammers’ favourite – and most successful – techniques

Concerted education campaigns and increasing technological familiarity are doing nothing to stem the uphill battle against escalating fraud, with new figures confirming Australians were fleeced out of $340 million by scammers in 2017 alone.

More than 200,000 scam reports were submitted to the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission (ACCC), Australian Cybercrime Online Reporting Network (ACORN), and other government bodies last year, according to new ACCC figures released to coincide with this week’s Scams Awareness Week.

Reported losses represented a $40 million, or 13 percent, increase over 2016 figures. Investment scams accounted for $64 million worth of the scam losses, with dating and romance scams milking $42 million from lovelorn Australians.

Average losses were $6500 per victim, with some cases involving the loss of more than $1 million. Notably, the ACCC recorded 20 cases where losses exceeded $400,000 – up from just seven cases the year before.

Business exposure

Such a high level of continuing susceptibility to scams raises immediate concerns about Australians’ continuing of susceptibility to scams and phishing emails. “Analysis of investment scam reports did not reveal any particularly new techniques used by investment scammers suggesting the same tricks used in previous years remain effective,” the report noted.

The warnings are particularly concerning given ongoing business exposure to business email compromise (BEC) – a form of scam that uses targeted, tailored emails or invoices to try to trick employees into sending corporate funds into their accounts.

With the new figures confirming that Australians – most of whom are employees of one business or another – are still highly susceptible to email deception, businesses must ramp up their education and monitoring campaigns to avoid becoming another statistic.

Australia’s relative wealth has made it the world’s second most-targeted BEC country, with official Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission (ACIC) figures acknowledging 243 Australian victims of BEC fraud in the first quarter of fiscal 2017 alone.

The ACCC analysis pegged Australian BEC losses during 2017 at $22.1 million, with hackers carefully studying current communications and business relationships before sending instructions to transfer money to a different account than usual. This was in line with previous estimates of $20 million published recently by the Australian Cyber Security Centre (ACSC).

Fighting back

Many vendors are pushing towards adoption of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine language (ML) technology to improve detection of BEC scams, with Trend Micro recently describing an AI-based Writing Style DNA tool that analyses email text for telltale signs such as a sense of urgency, request for action, threat of financial implications, and over-familiar language.

Ongoing exposure to BEC, phishing and other fraud has driven concerted education campaigns, such as the formation of the Scams Awareness Network (SAN) by 36 government regulatory agencies and departments.

It has also driven the issuance of public warning notices to dodgy e-tailers and enforcement action that ACCC deputy chair Delia Rickard said has helped return money to customers, block fraudulent transfers, and remove fake advertisements from online platforms.

“Scams are a complex and evolving problem affecting every demographic of Australians and continue to cause substantial financial and emotional damage,” Rickard wrote.

Tags Email fraudBEC

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