Australians reported 23.1 per cent more scams in 2020, losing $176.1 million dollars. Phishing remains the most popular type of attack, which experts say is because of its low effort and potentially high return for scammers.

People are being urged to remain vigilant and not click on suspicious links or disclose sensitive/financial information in response to unsolicited communications following a record year for scammers.

Scamwatch, an ACCC run group for reporting scams and raising awareness, has released its latest batch of scam data, showing significant jumps in both the number of scams reported and the total amount lost by Australians to scammers in 2020.

Last year Scamwatch had 216,089 reports of scams, up 28.8 per cent from 2019. More than one in 10 resulted in financial losses, totalling $176,091,805, an increase of 23.2 per cent in money lost.

Source: ACCC/Scamwatch.

The alarming 2020 data follows a decrease in the number of scams reported in 2019 compared with the year before. Although the total money lost has trended up for the last three years.

Source: Proofpoint/Scamwatch

Investment scams are the most prevalent, followed by dating and romance, and false billing scams, according to Scamwatch.

Gone phishing

Phone and email remain scammers’ scam of choice and the most used method is phishing, with over 44,000 incidents of phishing in 2020, a 75 per cent jump from 2019.

“The huge rise in phishing scams is perhaps the most concerning statistic of all in terms of sheer volume,” said Crispin Kerr ANZ area vice-president of enterprise cybersecurity company Proofpoint.

Crispin Kerr ANZ area vice-president of enterprise cybersecurity company Proofpoint. Image: Supplied.

“However, as a tactic used by scammers, it’s not surprising to see that phishing was again so popular. It has a low entry barrier for cybercriminals with a high-value return. Phishing emails are very easy to create, require little technical knowledge and most importantly, depend solely on one user clicking to succeed. Unfortunately, threat actors have actively been using social engineering to convince people to click a link or open attachments, by playing on people’s fears relating to COVID-19, throughout the year.

Despite warnings to stay vigilant in the lead up to Christmas, Australian lost more money in December ($22.4 million) than in any other month in 2020.

“As we enter 2021, with promising news of vaccine rollouts taking place, we would advise people to remain vigilant against these types of phishing attacks as scammers will follow the news-cycle closely to adapt their tactics and lures to topical themes,” Kerr said.

“Individuals should never click on links, open attachments, or disclose sensitive/financial information in response to unsolicited communications.”

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