The ACCC has issued a public warning aimed at scams targeting foreigners and the youth who have lost nearly $10 million this year alone.
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) says that criminal scams targeting foreigners and young people, often impersonating government, police and tax office employees have been designed to exploit the innocent and unaware, often deploying fear-based tactics to scam them out of money.
In a public statement, the ACCC has said that “threat-based scammers often pretend to be from government departments and rely on fear, intimidating and people’s instinct with authority, to scam victims. These scams are mainly phone-based and impersonate various officials, such as police, ATO officers, or government investigators.”
The ACCC says that young people are particularly likely to be targeted by these scams, with Scamwatch reporting more than 18,000 complaints related to the threat-based scams. The 18,000 reports marks an increase of more than 40% when compared to data from 2019.
Those aged under 24 have reported $4.1 million being lost to these scams, with females reporting losses three-times higher than males.
Delia Rickard, the ACCC’s Deputy Chair has issued a statement saying that “it is extremely concerning that young people are being so severely emotionally and financially impacted by threat based scams.”
“These losses can be devastating and they can also lead to a loss of trust in authority, meaning victims of threat based scams may be less likely to seek help or advice from legitimate agencies in the future.”
Another popular avenue that criminals have been using for their fraud campaigns are targeting foreign nationals with scams, most notably the Chinese community, which the ACCC says has accounted for more than 74% of the losses reported.
The ACCC says that “these scams target Mandarin-speakers in Australia and impersonate authorities such as the Chinese embassy, police or other government officials.” These scams have netted criminals a reported $6.5 million so far in 2020.
Ms Rickard said in response to the targeting of foreigners with these scams that “threat based scams disproportionately impact people with English as a second language, including foreign students, who may not fully understand Australian law.”
“Victims will often provide personal information to scammers, as they believe they are dealing with a government agency, and this can lead to identity theft or falling victim to further scams.”
The ACCC also says that data from Scamwatch shows that fraudsters are increasingly using robo-calls that impersonate a government agency such as the Department of Home Affairs, Service Australia or the Australian Taxation Office. When answered, these robo calls tell the victim that they are at risk of being audited or investigated, and prompts them to press a button to talk to an investigator.
The prompt to talk with an ‘investigator’ transfers the call directly to a scammer, where they continue to tell the victim they are at risk of an investigation or prosecution if they do not pay a penalty fee .
“Government departments will never send pre-recorded messages to your phone or threaten you with immediate arrest,” Ms Rickard continued to explain. “If you’re not sure whether a call is legitimate, hang up and call the organisation directly by finding their details through an independent search.”
“Never send money or give credit card details or personal information to anyone you don’t know or trust and never by email or over the phone,” she concluded.
The ACCC is urging anyone that has come into contact with scams like these to contact Scamwatch and submit a report so the agency can investigate.