Australian Institute of Criminology

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The 2013 consumer fraud survey results

Sample characteristics

Between 1 January and 30 June 2013, 1,059 people responded to the survey hosted on the AIC’s website, www.aic.gov.au. Twenty-five respondents were removed as they did not reside in Australia or New Zealand, leaving 1,034 responses that formed the sample subject to analysis.

Seventy percent of respondents (n=727) reported that they completed the survey in their capacity as a working member of the public, (not part of an ACFT partner agency) while a further 17 percent (n=174) of respondents characterised themselves as retirees. Six respondents (0.6%) were members of the police, 24 respondents (2.3%) were employed by an ACFT government agency, four respondents (0.4%) were employed by an ACFT private sector partner and 80 respondents (7.7%) were employed by another government agency.

Websites were the most popular way respondents were directed to the survey, with the SCAMwatch site referring 358 respondents (35%) and other government websites referring 268 respondents (26%). The media generated 110 responses (11%), posters and pamphlets directed eight respondents (0.8%) and 58 respondents (6%) were referred to the survey by another agency. A further 57 respondents (6%) found out about the survey through word of mouth. Two hundred and fifty-eight respondents advised that they had found out about the survey through other means, such as from their schools, Neighbourhood Watch pamphlet and from respondents’ own banks.

Twenty percent (n=207) were aware of the ACFT’s campaign and 14 percent (n=142) were aware of campaigns that had been run in previous years. Forty-three respondents (4%) had completed the 2012 survey, 25 respondents (2%) had completed the 2011 survey, 12 (1%) had completed the 2010 survey, seven (0.7%) had completed the 2009 survey and 930 respondents (90%) had not previously completed the survey.

There was an average of 39 responses a week in the 24 weeks prior to the 2013 campaign (n=938); 77 participants completed the survey during the week-long campaign, while the remaining 19 participants completed the survey in the week following the campaign.

Respondents were asked why they chose to complete the survey (multiple responses were allowed). Most respondents (n=765, 74%) wanted to ‘assist in research to combat scammers’. A further 447 participants (43%) completed the survey because ‘they had received scams, but not been scammed’; 235 respondents (23%) ‘wanted to learn more about scams’ and 193 respondents (18.7%) had ‘recently been scammed’, although it should be noted that this was a larger number of respondents than the number in the survey who advised they were victims.

Demographics

Females comprised 59 percent of the sample (n=610), while males comprised 38.2 percent of the sample (n=395). Twenty-nine respondents (2.8%) did not disclose their gender. Table 2 shows the breakdown of respondents by their age group.

As shown in Figure 1, most respondents resided in New South Wales (27.6%, n=286), Western Australia (20.1%, n=207), Victoria (18.8%, n=194) and Queensland (14.9%, n=159). Eleven respondents (1.1%) resided in New Zealand. South Australia (4.9%, n=51), Tasmania (1.5%, n=15) and the Northern Territory (1.4%, n=14) were the least represented states and territories in Australia.

When asked about income, over one-quarter of respondents (n=293, 28.3%) preferred not to disclose their income level and a further three percent (n=39) did not respond to the question. Slightly less than 40 percent of the respondents, 375 (36.3%) earned an income somewhere in the middle categories provided ($20,000 to $80,000), while 15.1 percent (n=156) earned less than $20,000 and 16.5 percent (n=171) earned in excess of $80,000 per annum (see Figure 2).

Table 2 Respondents by age
Age category (years) n %
17 and under 33 3.2
18–24 51 4.9
25–34 135 13.1
35–44 179 17.3
45–54 226 21.9
55–64 221 21.4
Over 65 173 16.7
Missing 16 1.6
Total 1,034 100

Source: ACFT Consumer Fraud Survey 2013 [AIC data file]

Figure 1 Respondents by region (% of respondents)

Figure 01

Note: Percentages may not total 100 due to rounding

Source: ACFT Consumer Fraud Survey 2013 [AIC data file]

Figure 2 Respondents by annual income (% of respondents)

Figure 02

Source: ACFT Consumer Fraud Survey 2013 [AIC data file]

Receiving scams

Of the 1,034 survey participants in 2013, 1,003 (97%) had received at least one scam invitation. The number and percentage of respondents who had received at least one scam invitation by scam type is provided in Table 3. Respondents may have received invitations for more than one scam type. Lottery scams were the most common type of scam received, reported by 692 (66.9%) of the survey participants. This was followed by computer support centre scams (received by 56.3% of survey participants and 58.0% of those who had received a scam invitation). The least likely type of scam invitation reported to have been received were boiler-room scams, received by 115 of the survey respondents, representing 11.5 percent of the sample who had received a scam invitation and 11.1 percent of the total sample.

Details of the types of delivery methods by which respondents reported receiving scams are provided in Table 4. It is noted that participants could have received more than one scam invitation; therefore, multiple responses are recorded. Email was the most popular delivery method, with 78.1 percent of respondents who had received a scam invitation receiving at least one invite this way. Consistent with previous years, telephone was also a common delivery method for scam invitations with 689 (68.7% of those who had received a scam invitation) respondents receiving scam invitations via that method.

Respondents were asked how many times over the previous 12 months they had received scams by each delivery method (see Figure 3). The results indicate that email is not only the most common scam delivery method, but also that participants received multiple scams in this way.

Table 3 Scam invitations received by scam type
Scam type Received scam invitation (n) Received a scam invitation (%) (n=1,003) Total sample (%) (n=1,034)
Lottery scams 692 69.0 66.9
Advance fee fraud 482 48.1 42.8
Inheritance scams 364 36.3 36.6
Phishing 522 52.0 45.0
Financial advice scams 186 18.5 22.8
Boiler-room scams 115 11.5 11.1
Work from home scams 366 36.5 39.3
Dating scams 234 23.3 13.1
Computer support scams 582 58.0 56.3
Other 312 31.1 30.2

Source: ACFT Consumer Fraud Survey 2013 [AIC data file]

Table 4 Scams by delivery method
Method of delivery Received a scam invitation (n) Received a scam invitation (%) (n=1,003) Total sample (%) (n=1,034)
Mail 337 33.6 32.6
Email 783 78.1 75.7
Telephone 689 68.7 66.6
SMS 447 44.6 43.2
Internet site/social networking 281 28.0 27.2
Other 83 8.3 8.0

Source: ACFT Consumer Fraud Survey 2013 [AIC data file]

Figure 3 Number of scams received by delivery method (n)

Figure 03

Source: ACFT Consumer Fraud Survey 2013 [AIC data file]

Responding to scams

During the 12 months prior to the survey, 338 (33%) survey participants responded to a scam invitation by way of requesting further information, providing personal details or suffering a financial loss. This represented 34 percent of those who had received a scam invitation during the 12 month period.

Fifteen percent of the sample who had received an invitation sent their personal details, suffered either a financial loss or both in response to at least one a scam (n=153, 14.8% of the total sample). Sixty-four participants (6.4% of the sample who received a scam invitation and 6.2% of the total sample) sent their personal details only, 37 participants (3.7% of the sample who received a scam invitation and 3.6% of the total sample) suffered a financial loss only and 65 participants (6.5% of the sample who received a scam invitation and 6.3% 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 5 and 6. Some respondents provided personal details and/or lost money as the result of multiple scams.

In the 2013 survey, none of the respondents indicated that they had lost money to a financial advice scam. Work from home scams and inheritance scams were the scam invitations least likely to result in the reported loss of personal details. The scam types with the highest conversion rates; that is, the scam types that led to more respondents sending money were advance fee frauds (1.7% of victims who had received a scam invitation of that nature) and dating or social networking scams (1.7% of victims who sent money who had received a scam invitation of that type). Dating and social networking scams continued to be among the most likely to lead to a financial loss despite not being as prevalent as other scams, with two percent of the sample who received a dating and social networking scam invitation reporting the loss of personal details, which resulted in losses of $536,779.76. These are the largest losses of any scam type.

Of the 153 victims who reported having suffered a financial loss, 94 (76%) disclosed the amount. This reportedly ranged from $5 to $2,000,000. With outliers removed ($2,000,000 reportedly lost due to a lottery scam), the reported financial loss totalled $1,110,106.66, ranging from $5 to $110,000 (mean=$11,810, median=$2,150).

Participants were able to select multiple responses when asked why they did not respond to scam invitations (see Table 7). The most common reasons for not responding to scams included ‘had received similar offers and thought they were scams’ (reported by 54.2% of the total sample), ‘had seen/heard this was a type of scam in the media or public source’ (50.6% of the total sample), or ‘something was not quite right with the offer or invitation’ (45.4% of the total sample).

Table 5 Loss of personal details by scam type
Scam type Provided personal details (n) Received a scam invitation (%) (n=1,003) Total sample (%) (n=1,034) Received an invitation to that type of scam (%)
Lottery scams 8 0.8 0.8 1.2
Advance fee fraud 8 0.8 0.8 1.7
Inheritance scams 4 0.4 0.4 1.1
Phishing 22 2.2 2.2 4.2
Financial advice scams 4 0.4 0.4 2.2
Boiler-room scams 2 0.2 0.2 1.7
Work from home scams 4 0.4 0.4 1.1
Dating or social networking scams 7 0.7 0.7 3.0
Computer support scams 13 1.3 1.3 2.2
Other 11 1.1 1.1 3.5

Source: ACFT Consumer Fraud Survey 2013 [AIC data file]

Table 6 Loss of money by scam type
Scam type Suffered a financial loss (n) Received a scam invitation (%) (n=1,003) Total sample (%) (n=1,034) Received an invitation to that type of scam (%)
Lottery scams 5 0.5 0.5 0.7
Advance fee fraud 8 0.8 0.8 1.7
Inheritance scams 1 0.1 0.1 0.3
Phishing 1 0.1 0.1 0.2
Financial advice scams 0 0 0 0
Boiler-room scams 0 0 0 0
Work from home scams 2 0.2 0.2 0.5
Dating or social networking scams 4 0.4 0.4 1.7
Computer support scams 9 0.9 0.9 1.5
Other 13 1.3 1.3 4.2

Source: ACFT Consumer Fraud Survey 2013 [AIC data file]

Table 7 Reasons for not responding to scams received
Reason for not responding n Received an scam invitation (%) (n=1,003) Total sample (%)
(n= 1,034)
Seemed too good to be true 442 44.1 42.7
Had received similar offers and thought they were scams 560 55.8 54.2
Had seen or heard this was a scam in the media or from a public source 523 52.1 50.6
Was told it was a scam by someone I knew 180 17.9 17.4
Someone I know was a victim of a scam 82 8.2 7.9
I wanted to respond but I could not afford to participate 10 1 1
Something was not quite right with the offer or invitation 469 46.8 45.4
Offer was identified as spam/unsafe by internet filter 254 25.3 24.6
Other 137 13.7 13.2

Source: ACFT Consumer Fraud Survey 2013 [AIC data file]

Victim demographics

For the purpose of this report, scam victims were defined as those who had provided scammers with their personal details and/or suffered a financial loss as the result of a scam. Of the 153 victims who had lost personal details or suffered a financial loss as the result of the scam, 98 (64.1%) identified themselves as female, 51 (33.3%) identified themselves as male and four (2.6%) declined to reveal their gender. Therefore, of the respondents who disclosed their gender, 16.1 percent of the 610 female respondents experienced victimisation, compared with 12.9 percent of the 395 males.

The age of victims, including the percentage of total respondents within that age category who reported being a victim, is shown in Table 8.

Table 9 shows victims’ annual income levels, as well as the percentage of total respondents within that income category who reported victimisation.

Table 10 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=41, 26.8% of the sample who reported victimisation), Western Australia (n=32, 20.9% of the sample who reported victimisation) and Queensland (n=27, 17.6% of the sample who reported victimisation). Four of the respondents residing in New Zealand reported victimisation and as there were 11 respondents from New Zealand, this resulted in a 36 percent victimisation rate of respondents from within that region.

Table 8 Victims by age
Age category (years) n % Respondents within that
age category (%)
17 and under 0 0 0
18–24 8 5.2 15.7
25–34 17 11.1 12.6
35–44 24 15.7 13.4
45–54 31 20.3 13.7
55–64 33 21.6 14.9
Over 65 38 24.8 22.0
Missing 2 1.3 12.5

Note: Percentages may not total 100 due to rounding

Source: ACFT Consumer Fraud Survey 2013 [AIC data file]

Table 9 Victims by annual income
Annual income n % Respondents within that income category (%)
Less than $20,000 31 20.3 19.9
$20,000–<$40,000 40 26.1 28.2
$40,000–<$60,000 21 13.7 16.0
$60,000–<$80,000 10 6.5 9.8
Over $80,000 11 7.2 6.4
I’d rather not say 33 21.6 11.3
Missing 7 4.6 17.9

Note: Percentages may not total 100 due to rounding

Source: ACFT Consumer Fraud Survey 2013 [AIC data file]

Table 10 Victims by region
Region n Percentage of victims Percentage of victims within
that region
Australian Capital Territory 13 8.5 14.9
New South Wales 41 26.8 14.3
New Zealand 4 2.6 36.4
Northern Territory 1 0.7 7.1
Queensland 27 17.6 17.5
South Australia 7 4.6 13.7
Tasmania 1 0.7 6.7
Victoria 26 17.0 13.4
Western Australia 32 20.9 15.5
Missing 1 0.7 6.7

Note: Percentages may not total 100 due to rounding

Source: ACFT Consumer Fraud Survey 2013 [AIC data file]

Reporting scams

Eighty-one percent of respondents who had received a scam invitation reported it to at least one other person or organisation (n=812, 78.7% of the total sample). There were 222 respondents (21% of the total sample) who did not report the scam to anyone. Friends and family were the most common person(s) respondents reported scam attempts to (n=542, 52.4% of the total sample; see Table 11); however, if they are excluded from the analysis, the reporting rate dropped to 55.6 percent of the sample who had received a scam invitation (n=558, 54.0% of the total sample). Computer support centre scam invitations were the most common scam reported to police.

Of the 153 respondents who reported falling victim to a scam, 136 (88.9%) reported scams to at least one other person or organisations. When friends and family were excluded, the reporting rate dropped to 75.8 percent (n=116) of the victim respondents who had reported to an external agency. Table 12 shows those organisations or persons victimisation was reported to, with respondents permitted to select more than one option.

Respondents were asked if they had reported scams they had received to a formal agency, what their reasons for doing so were. Participants could select more than one reason for reporting scams. The most common reasons for reporting a scam included ‘wanting to prevent others from being scammed’ (41.7% of sample who received a scam invitation), and ‘knew it was the right thing to do’ (30.6% of the sample who received a scam invitation; see Table 13). Respondents were given the opportunity to express their own reasons for reporting a scam if the provided responses did not fit their circumstances. Some respondents indicated that it was part of their work responsibilities to report scams. Other reasons for reporting scams ranged from ‘to confirm it was a scam’ to ‘I wanted to try and get my money back’. There were also numerous responses that indicated that respondents were hoping that by reporting the scam invitation it would lead to the scammer ceasing contact. One respondent reported that they decided to report the scam when ‘the caller was verbally abusive’.

Reasons for not reporting scam invitations are outlined in Table 14. The most commonly provided reasons included ‘unsure of which agency to contact’ (41.0% of the sample who had received a scam invitation) and ‘didn’t think anything would be done’ (32.4% of the sample who had received a scam invitation). It is noted that participants may have reported some scams but not others and may have had multiple reasons for not reporting. Respondents were given the option to supply their own reason for not reporting a scam. A reoccurring reason for those who received a scam invitation and did not report it was that respondents ‘assumed it was well known’, with over 30 respondents indicating similar responses. The survey asked whether respondents had reported scams on behalf of anyone else. Seventy-eight respondents (7.5%) indicated that they had. Participants were allowed to select all options that applied to them (see Table 15).

Table 11 Reporting of scams by agency
Organisation or person reported to n Received a scam invitation (%) (n=1,003) Total sample (%) (n=1,034)
Not reported to anyone 222 22.0 21.0
Family/friends 542 54.0 52.4
Police 102 10.2 9.9
SCAMwatch website (www.SCAMwatch.gov.au) 232 23.1 22.4
Australian Competition and Consumer Commission 86 8.6 8.3
The business represented (eg bank, eBay etc) 228 22.7 22.1
Internet Service Provider 92 9.2 8.9
Legal aid, a lawyer or a community legal services clinic 11 1.1 1.1
Unable to recall 28 2.8 2.7
Other 165 16.5 16.0

Note: Respondents were allowed to select more than one option, therefore percentages may not total 100

Source: ACFT Consumer Fraud Survey 2013 [AIC computer file]

Table 12 Reporting of victimisation by agency
Organisation or person reported to n Reported victimisation (%) (n=153)
Not reported to anyone 17 11.0
Family/friends 78 51.0
Police 42 27.5
SCAMwatch website (www.SCAMwatch.gov.au) 63 41.2
Australian Competition and Consumer Commission 26 17.0
The business represented (eg bank, eBay etc) 57 37.4
Internet Service Provider 18 11.8
Legal aid, a lawyer, or a community legal services clinic 6 3.9
Unable to recall 3 2.0
Other 28 18.3

Source: ACFT Consumer Fraud Survey 2013 [AIC computer file]

Table 13 Reasons for reporting scams received
Reason for reporting scam invitation n Received a scam invitation (%) (n=1,003) Total sample (%) (n=1,034)
Desired the apprehension of offender(s) 218 21.7 21.1
Wanted to prevent others from being scammed 418 41.7 40.4
Knew it was the right thing to do 307 30.6 29.7
To assist in the investigation of an offence 299 29.8 28.9
To support your insurance claim 5 0.5 0.5
Other 76 7.6 7.4

Source: ACFT Consumer Fraud Survey 2013 [AIC data file]

Table 14 Reasons for not reporting scams received
Reason for not reporting n Received a scam invitation (%) (n=1,003) Total sample (%) (n=1,034)
Not worth the effort 278 27.7 26.9
Didn’t think it was illegal 42 4.2 4.1
Unsure of which agency to contact 411 41.0 39.7
Feared I would get into trouble 21 2.1 2.0
Didn’t think anything would be done 325 32.4 31.4
Receive too many to report 269 26.8 26.0
Other 141 14.1 13.6

Source: ACFT Consumer Fraud Survey 2013 [AIC data file]

Table 15 Scams reported on behalf of someone else
Scam reported on behalf of n Total sample (%) (n=1,034)
Child (son or daughter) 9 0.9
Older relative (brother/sister, parent, grandparent, aunt/uncle) 36 3.5
Younger relative (niece/nephew, brother/sister) 7 0.7
A friend 23 2.2
A colleague 10 1.0
A student (if you are a teacher or in some similar capacity) 1 0.1
Other 17 1.6

Source: ACFT Consumer Fraud Survey 2013 [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 16). Advance fee fraud and phishing were most likely to be considered a crime (by 84.9% and 85.0% of the sample respectively). Respondents were given the opportunity to provide details of some of the other scams they had received; some included fake charities and scams that involved ransomware (ransomware is a type of malicious software that scammers threaten to activate on recipients’ computers unless a fee is paid). Most responses indicated that all scams are a crime; however, some considered them deceptive, but not necessarily a crime or just something that happens.

The perception of scams by respondents who reported victimisation was also explored according to scam type. Again, it is noted that participants could select more than one response (see Table 17). Advance fee fraud was most likely to be considered a crime by victims of this scam, whereas inheritance scams were more likely not to be considered a crime, but rather something that just happens. It should be noted that some respondents chose to not respond to the questions.

Table 16 Perceptions of scams by scam type
Scam type A crime Wrong but not a crime Just something that happens
n % n % n %
Lottery scams 694 67.1 230 22.2 58 5.6
Advance fee fraud 878 84.9 75 7.3 24 2.3
Inheritance scams 723 69.9 207 20.0 39 3.8
Phishing 879 85.0 80 7.7 20 1.9
Financial advice scams 520 50.3 352 34.0 98 9.5
Boiler-room scams 653 63.2 241 23.3 66 6.4
Work from home scams 742 71.8 167 16.2 61 5.9
Dating scams 564 54.5 329 31.8 63 6.1
Computer support scams 827 80.0 130 12.6 26 2.5
Other 822 50.5 130 12.6 89 8.6

Source: ACFT Consumer Fraud Survey 2013 [AIC data file]

Table 17 Perceptions of scams by respondents who reported victimisation by scam type
Scam type A crime Wrong but not a crime Just something that happens
n % n % n %
Lottery scams (n=23) 15 65.2 4 17.4 3 13.0
Advance fee fraud (n=26) 21 80.8 3 11.5 1 3.8
Inheritance scams (n=6) 4 66.7 0 0 2 33.3
Phishing (n=26) 20 76.9 3 11.5 1 3.8
Financial advice scams (n=5) 1 20.0 4 80.0 0 0
Boiler-room scams (5) 1 20.0 2 40.0 1 20.0
Work from home scams (n=8) 5 62.5 3 37.5 0 0
Dating scams (n=31) 24 77.4 6 19.4 1 3.2
Computer support scams (n=40) 37 92.5 2 5.0 0 0
Other (n=38) 23 60.5 6 15.8 2 5.4

Source: ACFT Consumer Fraud Survey 2013 [AIC data file]

Specific scams types

A major change to the 2013 survey was the restructure of the survey instrument. Respondents were asked details about the types of scam invitations they may have received so that the responses could be linked to the specific scam types.

As noted previously, 1,003 respondents received at least one scam invitation in the 12 months prior to completing the survey. Of those, 858 received more than one scam invitation, with eight respondents advising they had received all 10 types of scam invitation (including the ‘other’ category). There were 145 respondents who received only one scam invitation in the 12 months prior to the survey. The most commonly received invitation by those respondents was the computer support centre scam.

There were 338 respondents (32.7% of the total sample) who responded to a scam invitation in some way, either by requesting further information, sending personal details or money or alternatively sending both personal details and money as a result of a scam invitation. Lottery scams or false notification of prizes resulted in the most people seeking further information from scammers, with 208 respondents (20.7% of participants who had received a scam invitation) seeking further information about the scam or sending money and/or personal information as a result of the invitation. Invitations for boiler-room scams were the least likely to elicit a response from survey participants, with only 44 respondents (4.4% of respondents who received a scam invitation) seeking further information or sending money and/or personal information to scammers.

When examining specific scam types in detail, there were some notable differences in the type of victimisation they produced. Computer support centre scams resulted in the highest number of people sending money alone (22.5% of participants who reported being a victim of that particular scam). The ‘other’ scam type, comprising a range of diverse scam types, also had a larger number of respondents sending money to scammers when compared with the categorised scam types (13 respondents, 1.3% of those who had received an invitation who indicated they had sent money only to an ‘other’ scam). Phishing scams resulted in the most people sending personal details or passwords, with 22 respondents (2.2% of those who had received a scam invitation) advising they had disclosed their personal details in response to a scam of that nature. Scams that involved financial advice and boiler-room scams were the least likely to result in personal details being sent to scammers.

The scam type that resulted in the most respondents sending both money and personal details or passwords to a scammer was dating and social networking scams. Twenty respondents from the 234 respondents (8.5% of those who received a dating or romance scam invitation) advised that they had sent both money and personal details in response to a scam invitation of that nature. More details about dating and social networking scams can be found in the next section.

After dating and social networking scams, money transfer scams caused the next highest losses for respondents. There were 18 respondents who reported losing $217,136 to scams of that nature. The range of financial loss experienced was from $28 to up to $70,000 experienced by one victim of a money transfer scam. It is worth noting that the ‘other’ scam type (comprising less prevalent scams) had 25 respondents who experienced a combined total loss of $231,675. Examples of some of the scam types involved where respondents advised they had lost money included paying money for invalid or counterfeit tickets, fake psychic hotlines and online gambling programs. The range of the losses experienced by ‘other’ scam types was from $40 to $54,000. The median amount lost was $2,600.