Australian Institute of Criminology

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Conclusion and policy implications

Findings and discussion

Scams were received by a large proportion of the survey respondents—89 percent in 2010 and 94 percent in 2011. While lottery scams, advance fee frauds, phishing and work from home scams were the most common types of scams received, they were not necessarily the ones that resulted in the highest levels of victimisation. Dating scams, although less prevalent, were the most likely to result in the disclosure of personal details or a financial loss when a respondent was exposed to them. This finding is consistent with scam complaints made to the ACCC (2012a) and indicates that it is not sufficient to just raise awareness about the most commonly received scam invitations, but there must also be a focus on the more obscure scams.

Email was the method by which most scams were received; however, the use of mobile and landline phones, and SMS as scam delivery methods appears to be increasing, which coincides with the functionality and availability of smartphones. As reported by SCAMwatch, potential victims are increasingly being contacted by phone as targets for computer support centre scams (ACCC 2011c). It is anticipated that future scams may become more sophisticated to take advantage of the abilities of communication technologies. One recent example of this is scams that use quick response codes to direct consumers to phishing sites or send premium SMSs without the phone owner’s consent.

One of the salient findings from the surveys was the low reporting rate to law enforcement and regulatory agencies. The main reasons provided for not reporting were not thinking anything would be done, being unsure of which agency to contact and perceiving that reporting was not worth the effort. A failure to report scams is problematic, in part because it reduces knowledge and understanding of the nature and extent of scams, not only for creating awareness about current threats, but also in coordinating law enforcement investigations and collecting evidence about small-value, high-volume frauds that may affect a large number of victims. A focus on the reasons why scams were reported, namely preventing others from being scammed, knowing it was the right thing to do and to assist in investigating and apprehending offenders, may be useful in the development of future education campaigns that encourage others to report scams.

Comparison of the 2010 and 2011 survey results

As there were some substantial changes for the 2011 survey compared with the 2010 survey, it was difficult to reliably compare the results of the two. There was a substantial change in the wording, as respondents were asked about ‘scams’ in 2011 compared with ‘unsolicited contacts’ in 2010. There were also some changes and additions to the response categories for several of the forced-choice questions. The low response rate for the 2010 survey also makes it difficult to compare the findings with the survey that was conducted in 2011 (249 respondents in 2010 c/f 1,145 respondents in 2011).

Yet respondents to the 2010 and 2011 surveys were comparable in terms of their demographics, with females oversampled in both years and most survey respondents being over 45 years of age. Further, lottery scams were the most common type of scam received in both 2010 and 2011 (although work from home scams replaced advance fee fraud to be the second most received scam in 2011), while phishing remained the third most common scam type in both years.

Trends in scam delivery methods were difficult to capture, as the use of telephone and SMS to deliver scams was explored differently in the 2011 survey compared with the 2010 survey. However, in both years, email was the most common way that scams were received; there was a slight increase in the dissemination of scam invitations using internet and social networking websites in 2011.

Slightly more respondents reported receiving a scam invitation in the 2011 survey; however, the percentage reporting subsequent victimisation was lower in 2011 than in 2010. In both years, the scam type that resulted in the greatest proportion of recipients reporting a financial loss was dating scams. The median financial loss due to scams declined from $1,065 in 2010 to $700 in 2011.

In both the 2010 and 2011 surveys, the top two reasons for not responding to scams was that something was not quite right with the offer or invitation and that they had received similar offers before and thought they were scams. Along with the increased media coverage about the survey in 2011, there was an increase in participants who did not respond to a scam, compared with the 2010 survey, because they had seen or heard that this was a type of scam via the media or a public source.

Victim demographics were markedly different for the 2010 survey compared with the 2011 survey. As a proportion of respondents that disclosed their gender, females were overrepresented as victims in 2010, while males were overrepresented in 2011. There were also few similarities in respect of the age of victims for the two years. In 2011, the age group who reported the highest level of victimisation (as a proportion of total respondents within that age category) was 18 to 24 years; while in 2010, this age category reported the lowest level of victimisation. Similarly, in 2011, respondents earning less than $20,000 were most likely to report victimisation, while in 2010, respondents within this income category were the least likely to be victimised.

Reporting rates dropped for 2011 compared with 2010, although those most likely to receive a scam complaint were family and friends for both years. While the response categories changed substantially over the two surveys, it was apparent that the agencies or businesses most likely to receive complaints were consumer affairs or fair trading agencies, followed by the business that had been represented in the scam, such as a bank or online auction site. In both years, policing agencies were among the least likely to receive a scam complaint. The top two reasons provided for not reporting were being unsure of which agency to contact and not thinking anything would be done.

Suggestions for future campaigns

Suggested themes for future education and awareness campaigns include a focus on:

  • developing awareness about ‘hidden’ frauds. This includes frauds where victims may not realise they have been scammed, such as charity scams;
  • new technologies that may be misused by scammers, such as quick response codes;
  • developing awareness of the value of personal information and changing the culture in which data are liberally provided to third parties; and
  • if a national reporting facility for online crime is implemented in Australia, it is suggested that a future campaign could focus on how to recognise and report scams to appropriate bodies. This could coincide with a message that aims to reduce the stigma associated with falling victim to a scam, as suggested by Budd and Anderson (2011).