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 fraud;
- the types of frauds or fraudulent invitations that attracted the most victims;
- the factors relevant to victimisation; and
- what affects the reporting of fraud and fraudulent invitations.
Each year, an anonymous online survey hosted by the AIC has been used to collect data. As with the 2013 survey period, the 2014 survey ran from 1 January until 30 June 2014. The survey timeframe was chosen to correspond with the ACFT fraud awareness campaign (16 to 22 June) and to enable data to be collected before and after the campaign to assess its impact 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 to a large public audience and does not involve administration costs such as postage or interview expenses. It also allows respondents to remain anonymous, which was considered an advantage 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.
The survey contained a mixture of closed responses and open-ended, qualitative questions about respondent’s exposure to, and victimisation from, consumer fraud (see Appendix 1). These questions were developed in consultation with taskforce committee members. Information was sought on the following consumer frauds:
- lottery frauds;
- advance fee frauds;
- inheritance frauds;
- fraudulent financial advice;
- boiler-room or investment frauds;
- fraudulent work from home invitations;
- frauds involving computer support; and
- dating and social networking frauds.
An ‘other’ response category was also included to capture additional fraudulent invitations. 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.
Only minor changes were made to the questionnaire which:
- asked about satisfaction with reporting;
- restructured how many times responded and then how many times in contact; and
- asked about the outcome of reporting.
Limitations of the survey
The 2014 AIC survey experienced the same methodological constraints as those identified in previous years (Budd & Anderson 2011; Hutchings & Lindley 2012; Jorna & Hutchings 2013; Smith & Akman 2008). Limitations associated with the non-stratified sample and the non-random, self-selection aspect of the survey make it difficult to generalise the findings to the wider population. This is because those who had received a fraudulent invitation and/or fallen victim may be more likely to complete the survey than those who had not. In addition, the survey was not representative of age groups, gender or location compared with national specifications. A further difficulty was that completing the survey was limited to those who had access to a computer, which may have meant that those without access were unable to participate. To overcome this limitation, SCAMwatch employees were able to complete a survey over the phone on behalf of those respondents without access.
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 gaps between when fraudulent invitations are received or carried out, identified by the victim and then reported (if indeed they are reported). The reference period for the 2014 AIC online survey was the previous 12 months, with respondents being asked about whether they had received and responded to fraudulent invitations in that time. As the 2014 survey ran from January to June 2014, this could potentially include 18 months within the survey period. It is possible that respondents may have forgotten some incidents or incorrectly recalled dates and events.
In addition to those difficulties specific to this survey there are general problems common with using 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 no way to determine whether the responses given are accurate reflections of the events reported. As a result, the survey findings cannot provide a robust measurement of consumer fraud victimisation rates in Australasia.
Due to the limitations of the data as outlined above, descriptive analyses were predominantly used to report the results, particularly frequency distributions and percentages. As the survey was designed to capture information relating to respondents living in Australia or New Zealand, respondents who indicated they lived elsewhere were excluded from the sample. Only completed responses were included in the sample for analysis.
The following sections present the key results from the 2014 ACFT survey.