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The ACFT online surveys have been designed to examine the types of consumer fraud that respondents were exposed to during the previous 12 months. The surveys sought to measure:

  • the extent of consumer scams;
  • the types of frauds or scams that attracted the most victims;
  • the factors relevant to victimisation; and
  • what influences reporting of scams.

Each year between 1 January and 31 March, an anonymous online survey hosted by the AIC is used to collect data. This timeframe was chosen to correspond with recent ACFT fraud awareness campaigns, which operated from 1 to 7 March in 2010 and from 7 to 13 March in 2011, as well as to collect data before and after the campaign period to assess the impact of the campaign on participation rates.

The online survey method is considered the most cost effective way to gather information on consumer fraud in Australia and New Zealand as it is accessible by a large public audience and does not involve any administration costs such as postage or interview expenses. It also allows respondents to remain anonymous, which was considered advantageous as the survey asked questions about personal experience and possible victimisation.

The online survey was advertised in a variety of forums, including as a hyperlink via the SCAMwatch website, through government agency websites, via posters and pamphlets and through the media. ACFT members were asked to publicise the survey internally and SCAMwatch employees allowed callers to the SCAMwatch hotline to complete the survey over the phone.

Survey questions

The surveys contained a mixture of closed responses and open-ended, qualitative questions about respondent’s exposure to, and victimisation from, consumer scams (see Appendix A and Appendix B). These questions were developed in consultation with ACFT committee members. Information was sought on the following consumer scams:

  • lottery scams;
  • advance fee fraud;
  • inheritance scams;
  • phishing;
  • financial advice scams;
  • work from home scams; and
  • dating scams.

An ‘other’ response category was also included to capture additional scams. Questions related to respondents’ experience of consumer fraud in the 12 months prior to the survey, as well as their personal demographics and awareness of ACFT activities.

There was a substantial change in the wording for the 2011 survey compared with the 2010 survey as respondents were asked about ‘scams’ rather than ‘unsolicited contacts’. Additional questions were also posed in relation to:

  • how many times scams were received by each method over the previous 12 month period;
  • why respondents reported incidents to a formal agency; and
  • whether respondents had reported any scams on behalf of anyone else.

There were also some changes and additions to the response categories provided for several of the forced-choice questions.

Media coverage

A search of media databases for the periods 1 January 2010 to 31 March 2010 and 1 January 2011 to 31 March 2011 indicated that there was greater coverage of the survey in the media during the latter period. Only one media article that invited readers to participate in the survey and provided a relevant link was identified in 2010—Counter-attack on Online Fraud was published in The Australian Financial Review on 1 March 2010, which coincided with the start of fraud week. By comparison, 13 newspaper articles were identified in 2011. These were:

Kalgoorlie Miner 2011. Scam survey seeks goldfields information. Kalgoorlie Miner 8 January

Mandurah Coastal Times 2011. Scam victims asked to complete short survey for Fraud Taskforce. Mandurah Coastal Times 19 January

Clitheroe P 2011. Beware of scams on email. Geelong Advertiser 24 January

Clitheroe P 2011. Don’t be fooled by email scammers. The Observer 25 January

Clitheroe P 2011. Email scams—be on guard and just press delete button. Sunshine Coast Daily 25 January

The Morning Bulletin 2011. Use your sense on recognising email scams. The Morning Bulletin 25 January

Clitheroe P 2011. Best defence is common sense. North Shore Times 26 January

Kalgoorlie Miner 2011. Email scams mean big business. Kalgoorlie Miner 26 January

Melbourne Yarra Leader 2011. Don’t get caught in the net. Melbourne Yarra Leader 31 January

Brimbank Leader 2011. Don’t get caught in the net. Brimbank Leader 1 February

Cranbourne Leader 2011. Email scammers cast their net for victims. Cranbourne Leader 2 February

Noosa Journal 2011. Internet scams go global. Noosa Journal on 4 February

Ballina Shire Advocate 2011. Watch out for online scams. Ballina Shire Advocate 17 March

Radio interviews conducted with AIC staff in 2011 also promoted the survey and sought respondents. These included Afternoon Live on ABC News 24 on 8 March 2011 and Weekends with George Moore and Paul B Kidd on 2UE on 13 March 2011.

Additional media reports during the week-long campaigns that did not mention the survey may have nevertheless generated visits to the websites where links to the survey were provided. A search of media databases identified 33 additional newspaper articles that discussed consumer fraud and were published between 1 to 7 March 2010 (refer to Appendix C). For the campaign that ran from 7 to 13 March 2011, 47 additional newspaper articles were identified (refer to Appendix D).

Limitations of the surveys

The 2010 and 2011 AIC surveys experienced the same methodological constraints as those identified in previous years (see Budd & Anderson 2010; Smith & Akman 2008). Limitations associated with the relatively small sample sizes and the self-selection bias of the samples make generalising the findings to the wider population problematic. Completing the survey was also limited to those who had computer access, however, this was not considered overly restrictive, as SCAMwatch employees were able to fill out surveys over the phone on the respondent’s behalf.

It can also be difficult to measure fraud incidents within a given timeframe as it is not always easy to determine when fraud occurs. This is due to the time lapse between when scams are received or carried out, when they are identified by the victim and when they are subsequently reported (if indeed they are). The reference period for the 2010 and 2011 AIC online surveys was the previous 12 months and respondents were asked about whether they had received and responded to scams in this time. It is possible that some incidents may have begun before this time period and these may have been missed by the survey questions.

Further, while the findings can be used to provide insight into the experiences of individuals in relation to exposure to, victimisation from and reporting of consumer fraud scams, identifying reliable trends over time cannot be confidently reported from the survey data as the 2010 survey questions were different from the 2011 survey. As a result, the survey results cannot provide a robust measurement of consumer fraud victimisation rates in Australasia, nor of the success of the 2010 or 2011 Fraud Awareness weeks. The results are also unable to identify whether the two campaigns increased people’s awareness of consumer frauds or scams.

Analysis of results

Due to the limitations of the data as outlined above, descriptive statistics were predominantly used to report the results, particularly frequency distributions and percentages. As the survey was designed to capture information relating to respondents residing in Australia or New Zealand, respondents who indicated they resided elsewhere were excluded from the sample. Outliers, typically very large loss figures from respondents who appeared to have misunderstood the question, were removed for the analysis.

The following sections present the key results from the 2010 and 2011 ACFT surveys.