Australian Institute of Criminology

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Method

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 affects reporting of scams.

Each year, between 1 January and 31 March, an anonymous online survey hosted by the AIC has been used to collect data on scams. However, for the 2013 survey, the timeframe was extended to include the period from 1 January to 30 June 2013. This survey timeframe was chosen to correspond with the ACFT fraud awareness campaign, which ran from 17 to 23 June in 2013, as well as 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 survey contained a mixture of closed responses and open-ended, qualitative questions about the respondent’s exposure to, and victimisation from, consumer scams (see Appendix 1). These questions were developed in consultation with the ACFT committee members. Information was sought on the following consumer scams:

  • lottery scams;
  • advance fee fraud;
  • inheritance scams;
  • phishing;
  • financial advice scams;
  • boiler-room scams;
  • work from home scams;
  • dating scams; and
  • computer support scams.

An ‘other’ response category was also included to capture additional scams. Questions related to respondents’ experiences of consumer fraud in the 12 months prior to the survey, as well as their personal demographics and awareness of ACFT activities. As such, the survey period could incorporate up to 18 months in the survey period.

There were substantial changes to the 2013 survey compared with previous years. The first change was the inclusion of boiler-room scams as a scam category. The other major change was a restructure of the survey. Rather than asking questions for all potential scam invitations, the survey was structured so that respondents were only asked additional questions pertaining to contact with scammers and potential victimisation if they had received an invitation to that particular scam.

Media coverage

A search of media databases for the periods 1 January 2013 to 30 June 2013 found 10 newspaper articles inviting readers to participate in the survey. These were:

  • The Australian Institute of Criminology has called on Canning residents to have their say in the 2012 scam survey. The Canning Times 22 January, 2013.
  • Help fight scammers. The Melville Times 5 February, 2013.
  • Survey a vital weapon in war on scammers. Cockburn Gazette 15 January, 2013.
  • The Australian Institute of Criminology in partnership with the Australasian Consumer Fraud Taskforce, is conducting its annual survey to better understand the trends and impacts of online fraud. Cockburn Gazette 22 January, 2013.
  • Survey to track scams. Stirling Times 15 January, 2013.
  • Survey helps stop scammers. Eastern Reporter 22 January, 2013.
  • Survey to help stop scammers. Southern Gazette 29 January, 2013.
  • School news. Cranbourne Leader 30 January, 2013.
  • Scam survey. Mordialloc-Chelsea Leader 16 January, 2013.
  • Crime survey aimed at victims of scams. The Whitehorse Leader 16 January, 2013.

Radio interviews conducted with AIC staff in 2013 also promoted the survey and sought respondents. These included an interview on Mix 104.9 Darwin, Northern Territory, an interview on National Radio News on 9 January and an interview with Leon Delaney on Radio 2SM Sydney on 10 January.

In addition to the partner agencies of the ACFT including links to the survey and details about consumer fraud on their websites, the survey was advertised on the Neighbourhood Watch website and included in their newsletter distributed to households.

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 36 additional newspaper articles published between 17 and 23 June 2013 that discussed consumer fraud (refer to Appendix 2).

Limitations of the survey

The 2013 AIC survey experienced the same methodological constraints as those identified in previous years (see Budd & Anderson 2011; Hutchings & Lindley 2012; Jorna & Hutchings 2013; 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, particularly as those who have received a scam invitation and/or fallen victim may be more likely to complete the survey than those who have not. Directly 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 complete a survey over the phone with respondents.

It can also be difficult to measure fraud incidents within a given timeframe as it is not always easy to determine when fraud occurs due to the time lapse between when scams are received or carried out, identified by the victim and then reported (if indeed they are). The reference period for the 2013 AIC online survey was the previous 12 months and respondents were asked about whether they had received and responded to scams in this time. As the 2013 survey period encompassed January to June 2013, this could potentially include 18 months within the survey period. It is possible that some incidents may have been forgotten by respondents, or respondents incorrectly recalled dates and events. In addition, there are general problems common with the use of surveys that are also relevant to the ACFT survey, such as the potential for respondents to not understand the questions being asked. There is also the difficulty that there is no way to determine whether the responses given are accurate reflections of the events reported. As a result, the survey results cannot provide a robust measurement of consumer fraud victimisation rates in Australasia, nor of the success of the 2013 Fraud Awareness week. The results are also unable to identify whether the campaign increased people’s awareness of consumer frauds or scams.

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 2013 ACFT survey.