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Aussies targeted with COVID-19 scams in 2020

9News.com.au logo 9News.com.au 18/01/2021 Stuart Marsh

Australians lost more money to online scams than ever before in 2020 as COVID-19 restrictions forced many to spend more time online.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission's (ACCC) Scamwatch reports that last year Australians lost a reported $176.1 million to scams, up by 23.1 per cent compared to 2019.

Aware of droves of workers forced to work from home via online chat groups, the number of scams also rose: more than 216,000 were reported in 2020, some 28.8 per cent higher than 2019.

READ MORE: New scam targeting Woolworths shoppers

Australians lost more to scams in December 2020 than any other month. © Supplied Australians lost more to scams in December 2020 than any other month.

Australians were at their most vulnerable during the annual online sales near the Christmas break.

Despite being some months after the worst of the pandemic, more money was lost in December than any other month in 2020 with a combined loss of $22.4 million reported.

Of these scams, the most damaging were those presenting fake investment schemes, followed by dating and romance scams and then false bill scams in third.

READ MORE: Scam text message hits Sydney COVID results

chart © Supplied

The most successful scams were almost always delivered via phone calls and emails, with phone calls proving to have the most cut-through for cyber criminals.

Crispin Kerr, ANZ vice-president of cybersecurity firm Proofpoint, said criminals were constantly looking for low-effort, high-return solutions to rip people off.

"After the consistently high level of scam activity we've witnessed month-to-month throughout 2020, these annual statistics paint the real picture of the unfortunate growth we've seen," Mr Kerr said.

"The huge rise in phishing scams, up 75 per cent from 2019, is perhaps the most concerning statistic of all in terms of sheer volume.

"However, as a tactic used by scammers, it's not surprising to see that phishing was again so popular. It has a low entry barrier for cybercriminals with a high-value return."

READ MORE: Aussies warned against Amazon Prime scam

chart, bar chart © Supplied

Mr Kerr said many criminals tailored their scams around COVID-19 talking points in an effort to trick users who may have been expecting government communication.

"Phishing emails are very easy to create, require little technical knowledge and most importantly, depend solely on one user clicking to succeed," Mr Kerr advised.

"Unfortunately, threat actors have actively been using social engineering to convince people to click a link or open attachments, by playing on people's fears relating to COVID-19, throughout the year."

READ MORE: Black Friday online sales create 'perfect storm for cyber-crime'

a man wearing a suit and tie: Proofpoint ANZ area vice-president Crispin Kerr explained that the barrier to entry for some cybercriminals was quite low. © Supplied Proofpoint ANZ area vice-president Crispin Kerr explained that the barrier to entry for some cybercriminals was quite low.

His advice to users wishing not to fall victim to these scammers was the tried and true method of not taking odd emails and calls at face value.

"As we enter 2021, with promising news of vaccine rollouts taking place, we would advise people to remain vigilant against these types of phishing attacks as scammers will follow the news-cycle closely to adapt their tactics and lures to topical themes," Mr Kerr said.

"Individuals should never click on links, open attachments, or disclose sensitive/financial information in response to unsolicited communications."

You canĀ get up-to-date information from the Federal Government's Coronavirus Australia app, available on the App Store, Google Play and the Government's WhatsApp channel.

Beyond Blue's Coronavirus Mental Wellbeing Support Service is a 24/7 service free of charge to all Australians. Visit the site here or call 1800512348

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