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The 2011 consumer fraud survey results

Scams: It’s personal

The ACFT’s 2011 annual information campaign ran from 7 to 13 March. The theme of the 2011 campaign was Scams: It’s Personal, which aimed to raise awareness of the types and impact of consumer fraud experienced by individuals in Australasia (ACCC 2011e).

Sample characteristics

Between 1 January and 31 March 2011, 1,153 people responded to the survey hosted on the AIC’s website (www.aic.gov.au). Eight respondents were removed from the sample as they did not reside in Australia or New Zealand, leaving 1,145 responses that formed the sample that was subject to analysis.

Over three-quarters (76.9%, n=880) of respondents reported that they completed the survey as a member of the public and a further 11.8 percent (n=135) of respondents were also retirees. Thirteen respondents (1.1%) were police, 1.7 percent (n=19) were employed by an ACFT government agency, 0.2 percent (n=2) were employed by an ACFT private sector partner and 7.5 percent (n=86) were employed by another government agency.

Websites were the most popular way respondents were directed to the survey, with government websites referring 520 respondents (45.4%) and the SCAMwatch site referring another 287 respondents (25.1%). The media generated 79 responses (6.9%), posters and pamphlets directed nine respondents (0.8%) and 83 respondents (7.3%) were referred to the survey by an agency. A further 62 respondents (5.4%) found out about the survey through word of mouth.

Almost 20 percent (19.6%, n=224) were aware of the ACFT’s campaign and 11.3 percent (n=129) were aware of campaigns that had been run in previous years. Thirty-three respondents (2.9%) had completed to the 2010 survey, 14 (1.2%) had completed the 2009 survey, 10 (0.9%) had completed the 2008 survey and eight respondents (0.7%) had previously completed the 2007 survey.

There was an average of 112.2 responses per week in the nine weeks prior to the 2011 campaign (n=1,010); 74 participants completed the survey during the week-long campaign, while the remaining 61 participants completed the survey in the three weeks following the campaign, averaging 20.3 responses per week. Therefore, it appears that in 2011, the media and web presence surrounding the survey had more of an impact on participation rates than the campaign itself.

A new question was included in 2011, asking why respondents chose to complete the survey. Most respondents (n=652, 56.9%) wanted to assist in research to combat scammers. A further 195 participants (17%) completed the survey because they had recently been scammed; 210 respondents (18.3%) had received scams but had not been scammed and 38 respondents (3.3%) wanted to learn more about scams.

Demographics

Females were overrepresented, comprising 59.3 percent of the sample (n=679) compared with males, who made up 39.6 percent of the sample (n=453). Thirteen respondents (1.1%) did not disclose their gender.

Table 16 shows the breakdown of respondents by age group. Again, those aged over 45 years made up over half (58.3%, n=667) of respondents.

Table 16: Respondents by age, 2011
Age category (yrs) n %
17 and under 10 0.9
18–24 75 6.6
25–34 197 17.2
35–44 189 16.5
45–54 280 24.5
55–64 239 20.9
Over 65 148 12.9
Missing 7 0.6
Total 1,145

Note: Percentages may not total 100 due to rounding

Source: ACFT Consumer Fraud Survey 2011 [AIC data file]

As shown in Figure 3, most respondents resided in New South Wales (25.4%, n=291), Western Australia (20.2%, n=231), Victoria (18.3%, n=210) and Queensland (15.7%, n=180). Five respondents (0.4%) resided in New Zealand. South Australia (6.4%, n=73), Tasmania (2.9%, n=33) and the Northern Territory (1%, n=12) were the least represented states and territories in Australia.

Figure 3: Respondents by region, 2011 (%)

Note: Percentages may not total 100 due to rounding

Source: ACFT Consumer Fraud Survey 2011 [AIC data file]

When asked about income, most respondents (n=245, 21.4%) responded that they would rather not disclose their income level and a further 1.5 percent (n=17) did not respond to the question. Almost half of respondents (43.8%, n=502) earned an income somewhere in the middle categories provided ($20,000 to $80,000 per annum), while 16.1 percent (n=184) earned less than $20,000 and 17.2 percent (n=197) earned in excess of $80,000 per annum (see Figure 4).

Figure 4: Respondents by annual income, 2011 (%)

Source: ACFT Consumer Fraud Survey 2011 [AIC data file]

Receiving scams

Of the 1,145 survey participants in 2011, 1,077 (94.1%) had received at least one scam invitation. The number and percentage of respondents who had received at least one scam invitation and the type of invitation received is shown in Table 17. Respondents may have received invitations for more than one scam type. The most common type of scams received, reported by over half (56.6%) of the survey participants, were lottery scams. This was closely followed by ‘other’ scams (received by 48.6% of survey participants and 51.7% of those who had received a scam invitation). The least likely type of scam invitation reported to have been received remained dating scams, received by 120 of the survey respondents, representing 11.1 percent of the sample who had received a scam invitation and 10.5 percent of the total sample.

Table 17: Type of scam invitation received, 2011
Scam type Received a scam invitation (n) Received a scam invitation (%) (n=1,077) Total sample (%) (n=1,145)
Lottery scams 648 60.2 56.6
Advance fee fraud 464 43.1 40.5
Inheritance scams 354 32.9 30.9
Phishing 466 43.3 40.7
Financial advice scams 236 21.9 20.6
Work from home scams 469 43.5 41.0
Dating scams 120 11.1 10.5
Other 557 51.7 48.6

Source: ACFT Consumer Fraud Survey 2011 [AIC data file]

Details of the types of delivery methods by which respondents reported receiving scams are provided in Table 18. It is noted that participants may have received more than one scam invitation, therefore, multiple responses are recorded. Email remained the most popular delivery method, with 70.8 percent of respondents who had received a scam invitation receiving at least one invite this way. However, compared with the previous year’s results, the percentage of the total sample who received an invite by email declined from 75.6 percent in 2010 to 66.6 percent in 2011. The percentage of the total sample who received an invitation using the internet or social networking site increased from 11 percent in 2010 to 13.9 percent in 2011. The use of telephone and SMS to deliver scams was captured differently in the 2010 and 2011 surveys, therefore making comparison difficult.

Table 18: Scam delivery method, 2011
Method of delivery Received a scam invitation (n) Received a scam invitation (%) (n=1,077) Total sample (%) (n=1,145)
Mail 215 20.0 18.8
Email 763 70.8 66.6
Telephone 442 41.0 38.6
SMS 168 15.6 14.7
Internet site/social networking 150 13.9 13.1
Other 78 7.2 6.8

Source: ACFT Consumer Fraud Survey 2011 [AIC data file]

The 2011 survey included a new question asking respondents how many times over the previous 12 months they had received scams by each delivery method (see Figure 5). The results indicate that email is not only the most common scam delivery method, but also that participants received multiple scams in this way.

Figure 5: Scams received by delivery method, 2011 (n)

Source: ACFT Consumer Fraud Survey 2011 [AIC data file]

Responding to scams

During the 12 months prior to the survey, over one-quarter (n=327, 28.6%) of the respondents answered a scam invitation by way of requesting further information, providing personal details or suffering a financial loss. This represented 30.4 percent of those who had received a scam invitation during the 12 month period.

Compared with the results of the 2010 survey, a lower proportion of survey participants were victimised in relation to scams in 2011. Twenty percent of the sample who received an invitation sent their personal details, suffered a financial loss or had both occur in response to at least one a scam (n=215, 18.8% of the total sample). By comparison, in 2010, these proportions were 21.5 percent of the sample who had received a scam invitation and 19.1 percent of the total sample. Ninety participants (8.4% of the sample who received a scam invitation and 7.9% of the total sample) sent their personal details only; 51 participants (4.7% of the sample who received a scam invitation and 4.5% of the total sample) suffered a financial loss only and 74 participants (6.9% of the sample who received a scam invitation and 6.5% of the total sample) lost money as well as sent their personal details.

The number of respondents who provided personal details or lost money to each type of scam, as well as the percentage of the total sample, the percentage of the sample who received any type of scam and the percentage of the sample who received that particular type of scam invitation is provided in Tables 19 and 20. Some respondents provided personal details and/or lost money as the result of multiple scams.

Table 19: Loss of personal details to a scam by scam type, 2011
Scam type Provided personal details (n) Received a scam invitation (%) (n=1,077) Total sample (%) (n=1,145) Received an invitation to that type of scam (%)
Lottery scams 32 3.0 2.8 4.9
Advance fee fraud 11 1.0 1.0 2.4
Inheritance scams 6 0.6 0.5 1.7
Phishing 24 2.2 2.1 5.2
Financial advice scams 8 0.7 0.7 3.4
Work from home scams 16 1.5 1.4 3.4
Dating scams 17 1.6 1.5 14.2
Other 80 7.4 7.0 14.4

Source: ACFT Consumer Fraud Survey 2011 [AIC data file]

Table 20: Loss of money to a scam by scam type, 2011
Scam type Suffered a financial loss (n) Received a scam invitation (%) (n=1,077) Total sample (%) (n=1,145) Received an invitation to that type of scam (%)
Lottery scams 17 1.6 1.5 2.6
Advance fee fraud 15 1.4 1.3 3.2
Inheritance scams 6 0.6 0.5 1.7
Phishing 10 0.9 0.9 2.1
Financial advice scams 12 1.1 1.0 5.1
Work from home scams 14 1.3 1.2 3.0
Dating scams 12 1.1 1.0 10.0
Other 70 6.5 6.1 12.6

Source: ACFT Consumer Fraud Survey 2011 [AIC data file]

Inheritance scams were the least likely to result in the reported loss of personal details and/or money. Comparing the 2010 survey results to the 2011 responses, it appears that the type of scams that people are likely to fall victim to differs from year to year. For example, 3.4 percent of the sample who received a financial advice or work from home scam invitation sent their personal details in response, while the respective proportions in 2010 were 6.2 percent and 5.2 percent. While victims were less likely to lose personal details in response to financial advice scams in 2011, they were more likely to suffer a financial loss, as reported by 5.1 percent of those who received an invitation for this type of scam in 2011, compared with 3.1 percent in 2010. Dating scams continued to be among the most likely to lead to the loss of personal details or financial loss in relation to their prevalence, however this was less pronounced when compared with the 2010 results, with 14.2 percent of the sample who received a dating scam invitation reporting the loss of personal details, compared with 19.6 percent in 2010 and 10 percent reporting a financial loss, compared with 13 percent in 2010.

Of the 125 victims who reported having suffered a financial loss, 117 (93.6%) disclosed the amount. This reportedly ranged from $20 to $200,000,000. With two values removed ($200,000,000 reportedly lost due to a lottery scam and $16,500,000 lost due to a consumer scam by a respondent whose income was less than $20,000 per annum), the reported financial loss totalled $6,999,718, ranging from $20 to $5,000,000 (mean=$60,867.11, median=$700).

Participants were able to select multiple responses when asked why they did not respond to scam invitations. Their responses are provided in Table 21. The most common reasons for not responding to scams included something being not quite right with the offer or invitation (reported by 52% of the total sample), having received similar offers before and thought they were scams, (49.4% of the total sample), or having seen or heard that it was a type of scam in the media or public source (47.5% of the total sample). When compared with the 2010 results, it appears that the role of the media and public source information in creating awareness about scams has improved, with 50.5 percent of the sample who received an invitation realising it was a scam due to the media’s influence in 2011, compared with 42 percent in 2010. Only 2.3 percent (n=26) of the sample received a scam that they wanted to respond to but could not afford to participate.

Table 21: Reasons for not responding to scams, 2011
Reason for not responding n Received a scam invitation (%) (n=1,077) Total sample (%) (n=1,145)
Seemed too good to be true 523 48.6 45.7
Had received similar offers before and thought they were scams 566 52.6 49.4
Had seen/heard this was a type of scam in the media or a public source 544 50.5 47.5
Was told it was a scam by someone I knew 148 13.7 12.9
Someone I know has been a victim of a scam before 81 7.5 7.1
Wanted to respond but could not afford to participate 26 2.4 2.3
Something was not quite right with the offer or invitation 595 55.2 52.0
Offer was identified as spam/unsafe by internet filter 271 25.2 23.7
Other 137 12.7 12.0

Source: ACFT Consumer Fraud Survey 2011 [AIC data file]

Victim demographics

Of the 215 victims who had lost personal details or suffered a financial loss as the result of the scam, 121 (56.3%) were female and 93 (43.3%) were male; one respondent (0.5%) declined to answer. Therefore, 17.8 percent of the 679 female respondents experienced victimisation, compared with 20.5 percent of the 453 males who participated in the survey and disclosed their gender.

The age of victims, including the percentage of total respondents within that age category who reported being a victim, is displayed in Table 22. Although the small number of respondents (and victims) who completed the 2010 survey makes comparison difficult, it is noted that the 18–24 years and over 65 years age groups reported a substantially higher proportion of victims in 2011 compared with the previous year, while the proportion of victims in the 45–54 year age category dropped from 42.6 percent in 2010 to 27 percent in 2011.

Table 22: Victims by age, 2011
Age category (yrs) n % Total respondents within that age category (%)
17 and under 0 0.0 0.0
18–24 17 7.9 22.7
25–34 36 16.7 18.3
35–44 33 15.3 17.5
45–54 58 27.0 20.7
55–64 36 16.7 15.1
Over 65 35 16.3 23.6

Note: Percentages may not total 100 due to rounding

Source: ACFT Consumer Fraud Survey 2011 [AIC data file]

Table 23 shows the annual income levels of victims, as well as the percentage of total respondents within that income category who reported victimisation. Interestingly, the proportion of people reporting victimisation decreased as their income increased, with lower income earners more likely to report victimisation. One-quarter (24.7%, n=53) of victims reportedly earned less than $20,000 per annum. These results differ from the results of the previous year. In 2011, the highest proportion of victims earned less than $20,000, while in 2010, this income category had the lowest proportion of victims.

Table 23: Victims by annual income, 2011
Annual income n % Total respondents within that income category (%)
Less than $20,000 53 24.7 28.8
$20,000–<$40,000 37 17.2 23.6
$40,000–<$60,000 38 17.7 20.8
$60,000–<$80,000 24 11.2 14.8
Over $80,000 29 13.5 14.7
I’d rather not say 31 14.4 12.7
Missing 3 1.4 17.6

Note: Percentages may not total 100 due to rounding

Source: ACFT Consumer Fraud Survey 2011 [AIC data file]

Table 24 shows victims by the region in which they resided, as well as the percentage of total respondents within that region who reported victimisation. Most victims resided in New South Wales (n=56, 26% of the sample who reported victimisation), Western Australia (n=47, 21.9% of the sample who reported victimisation) and Queensland (n=40, 18.6% of the sample who reported victimisation). Although only three victims resided in the Northern Territory (1.4% of the sample who reported victimisation), one-quarter (25%) of the 12 respondents in this jurisdiction provided personal details or suffered a financial loss as the result of a scam. The 10 victims residing in Tasmania only represented 4.7 percent of the total victims, although they made up 30.3 percent of respondents from this state. None of the respondents residing in New Zealand reported victimisation.

Table 24: Victims by region, 2011
Region n % Total respondents within that region (%)
Australian Capital Territory 9 4.2 8.7
New South Wales 56 26.0 19.2
New Zealand 0 0.0 0.0
Northern Territory 3 1.4 25.0
Queensland 40 18.6 22.2
South Australia 14 6.5 19.2
Tasmania 10 4.7 30.3
Victoria 36 16.7 17.1
Western Australia 47 21.9 20.3

Source: ACFT Consumer Fraud Survey 2011 [AIC data file]

Reporting scams

Almost seven out of every 10 respondents who had received a scam invitation reported it to at least one other person or organisation (69.5%, n=749; 65.4% of the total sample). The reporting rate dropped to 52.6 percent of the sample who had received a scam invitation (n=567, 49.5% of the total sample) when friends and family were excluded. The reporting rate for 2011 was lower than that of 2010; however, the response categories differed for the two years, making comparison difficult. Friends and family continued to be the most common recipients of scam complaints; however, the reporting rate for this category dropped from 46.6 percent of those who had received a scam invitation in 2010 to 38.2 percent for participants who had received a scam invitation in 2011. Just 10.7 percent of those who received a scam invitation reported it to the police (a decrease compared with the 2010 survey results), 11.9 percent reported it to the ACCC and 17.9 percent reported it to the SCAMwatch website. Table 25 details who complaints were made to and it is noted that respondents were permitted to select more than one option.

Table 25: Reporting of victimisation by agency, 2011
Organisation or person reported to n Percentage of sample that received a scam invitation (n=1,077) Percentage of total sample (n=1,145)
Not reported to anyone 308 28.6 26.9
Family/friends 411 38.2 35.9
Police 115 10.7 10.0
SCAMwatch website (www.scamwatch.gov.au) 193 17.9 16.9
Australian Competition and Consumer Commission 128 11.9 11.2
The business represented (eg bank, eBay etc) 194 18.0 16.9
Internet Service Provider 88 8.2 7.7
Legal aid, a lawyer, or a community legal services clinic 15 1.4 1.3
Unable to recall 15 1.4 1.3
Other 135 12.5 11.8
Missing 101 9.4 8.8

Source: ACFT Consumer Fraud Survey 2011 [AIC data file]

Of the 215 respondents who reported falling victim to a scam, 186 (86.5%) reported scams to at least one other person or organisation. When friends and family were excluded, the reporting rate dropped to 77.2 percent (n=166) of those who reported to an external agency. Table 26 shows those organisations or persons victimisation was reported to, with respondents permitted to select more than one option. Victims were most likely to report scams to friends and family (44.7%), the SCAMwatch website (30.7%) and the business represented (29.8%). Policing agencies received complaints from 20.9 percent of victims and the ACCC received complaints from 19.5 percent.

Table 26: Reporting of scams by agency, 2011
Organisation or person reported to n Reported victimisation (%) (n=215)
Not reported to anyone 28 13.0
Family/friends 96 44.7
Police 45 20.9
SCAMwatch website (www.scamwatch.gov.au) 66 30.7
Australian Competition and Consumer Commission 42 19.5
The business represented (eg bank, eBay etc) 64 29.8
Internet Service Provider 22 10.2
Legal aid, a lawyer, or a community legal services clinic 10 4.7
Unable to recall 5 2.3
Other 35 16.3
Missing 5 2.3

Source: ACFT Consumer Fraud Survey 2011 [AIC data file]

Included in the 2011 survey was a new question, asking why scam recipients reported to a formal agency (see Table 27). Participants could select more than one reason for reporting scams. The most common reasons for reporting a scam included preventing others from being scammed (44% of sample who received a scam invitation) and knowing it was the right thing to do (32.1% of the sample who received a scam invitation).

Table 27: Reasons for reporting scams, 2011
Reason for reporting scam invitation n Received a scam invitation (%) (n=1,077) Total sample (%) (n=1,145)
Desired the apprehension of offender(s) 281 26.1 24.5
Wanted to prevent others from being scammed 474 44.0 41.4
Knew it was the right thing to do 346 32.1 30.2
To assist in the investigation of an offence 289 26.8 25.2
To support your insurance claim 9 0.8 0.8
Other 59 5.5 5.2

Source: ACFT Consumer Fraud Survey 2011 [AIC data file]

Reasons for not reporting scam invitations are outlined in Table 28. The most commonly provided reasons included being unsure of which agency to contact (40.9% of the sample who had received a scam invitation) and not thinking anything would be done (29.1% of the sample who had received a scam invitation). Receiving too many to report was a new response category included in the 2011 survey; 280 (26% of the sample who received a scam invitation) provided this as a reason for not reporting scams. It is noted that participants may have reported some scams but not others and may have had multiple reasons for not reporting.

Table 28: Reasons for not reporting scams, 2011
Reason for not reporting n Received a scam invitation (%) (n=1,077) Total sample (%) (n=1,145)
Not worth the effort 285 26.5 24.9
Didn’t think it was illegal 40 3.7 3.5
Unsure of which agency to contact 441 40.9 38.5
Feared I would get into trouble 12 1.1 1.0
Didn’t think anything would be done 313 29.1 27.3
Receive too many to report 280 26.0 24.5
Other 102 9.5 8.9

Source: ACFT Consumer Fraud Survey 2011 [AIC data file]

The 2011 survey included a new question that asked whether respondents had reported scams on behalf of anyone else. Fifty-seven respondents (5%) indicated that they had and 53 indicated on whose behalf they had reported (see Table 29).

Table 29: Scams reported on behalf of someone else, 2011
Scam reported on behalf of n Total sample (%) (n=1,145)
Child (son or daughter) 2 0.2
Older relative (brother/sister, parent, grandparent, aunt/uncle) 17 1.5
Younger relative (niece/nephew, brother/sister) 1 0.1
A friend 11 1.0
A colleague 2 0.2
A student (if you are a teacher or in some similar capacity) 0 0.0
Other 20 1.8

Source: ACFT Consumer Fraud Survey 2011 [AIC data file]

Perceptions of scams

Respondents were asked how they perceived each scam type. They were asked to indicate whether they considered each scam type as a crime, wrong but not a crime, or just something that happens. Respondents were permitted to select more than one response (see Table 30). Advance fee fraud and phishing scams continued to be the scams most likely to be considered a crime (by 77.2% and 79.7% of the sample respectively). Compared with the 2010 findings, financial advice scams and work from home scams were more likely to be considered a crime in 2011 (by 43.8% and 65.8% of the sample respectively, compared with 32.5% and 25.6% in 2010).

Table 30: Perceptions of scams by scam type, 2011
Scam type A crime Wrong but not a crime Just something that happens
n % n % n %
Lottery scams 669 58.4 308 26.9 82 7.2
Advance fee fraud 884 77.2 126 11.0 37 3.2
Inheritance scams 706 61.7 276 24.1 60 5.2
Phishing 913 79.7 107 9.3 26 2.3
Financial advice scams 501 43.8 400 34.9 132 11.5
Work from home scams 753 65.8 218 19.0 79 6.9
Dating scams 534 46.6 385 33.6 98 8.6
Other 380 33.2 79 6.9 56 4.9

Source: ACFT Consumer Fraud Survey 2011 [AIC data file]

The perception of scams by respondents who reported victimisation from that scam type was also explored (see Table 31). Again, it is noted that participants could select more than one response. While in 2010 work from home scams were least likely to be considered a crime by those who had lost finances or personal details this way, this scam type was most likely to be considered a crime by victims in 2011.

Table 31: Perceptions of scams by respondents who reported victimisation by scam type, 2011
Scam type A crime Wrong but not a crime Just something that happens
n % n % n %
Lottery scams (n=40) 31 77.5 4 10.0 2 5.0
Advance fee fraud (n=19) 14 73.7 2 10.5 2 10.5
Inheritance scams (n=10) 4 40.0 4 40.0 2 20.0
Phishing (n=29) 22 75.9 5 17.2 1 3.4
Financial advice scams (n=15) 9 60.0 5 33.3 1 6.7
Work from home scams (n=24) 21 87.5 1 4.2 1 4.2
Dating scams (n=23) 13 56.5 4 17.4 5 21.7
Other (n=110) 57 51.8 7 6.4 7 6.4

Source: ACFT Consumer Fraud Survey 2011 [AIC data file]