Australians lost over $851 million to scams in 2020, a record amount, as scammers took advantage of the pandemic to con unsuspecting people, according to the ACCC’s latest targeting scams report.

Investment scams accounted for the biggest losses, with $328 million, and made up more than a third of total losses.

Romance scams were the next biggest category, costing Australians $131 million, while payment redirection scams resulted in $128 million of losses.

“Last year, scam victims reported the biggest losses we have seen, but worse, we expect the real losses will be even higher, as many people don’t report these scams,” ACCC deputy chair Delia Rickard said.

“Unfortunately scammers continue to become more sophisticated and last year used the COVID-19 pandemic to scam and take advantage of people from all walks of life during this crisis.

“We saw scammers claiming the government restrictions meant people could not see items in person before purchase.

“This was a common ruse in vehicle sale and puppy scams, which both had higher reports and losses.”

As people spent more time online during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown, reports and losses for some scams also increased.

Health and medical scams increased more than 20 fold compared to 2019, accounting for over $3.9 million in losses.

Losses to threat based scams increased by 178 per cent to $11.8 million, and there were more than $8.4 million in losses to remote access scams, an increase of over 74 per cent.

Phishing activity also thrived during the pandemic, especially through government impersonation scams.

There were over 44,000 reports of phishing scams, representing a 75 per cent increase.

Dating and romance: Scammers take advantage of people looking for romantic partners, often via dating websites, apps or social media by pretending to be prospective companions.

They play on emotional triggers to get you to provide money, gifts or personal details.

Health and medical products: Health and medical product scams may sell you healthcare products at low prices that you never receive, or make false promises about their ‘cure-all’ products, medicines and treatments.

Investment scams: Investment scams involve getting you or your business to part with money on the promise of a questionable financial opportunity.

Phishing: Phishing scams are attempts by scammers to trick you into giving out your personal information such as your bank account numbers, passwords and credit card numbers.

Threats to life, arrest or other: Threats to life, arrest or other involve demands by scammers to pay money that you supposedly owe and threats if you do not cooperate.

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