Why Aussies fall for scams so easily

A shocking report has revealed that Australians rank inside the top five for nationalities most likely to fall for internet scams. It also unveiled some uncomfortable truths about why we seem so susceptible.

Each year, thousands of Aussies are affected by increasingly sophisticated online scams. Australians lost a total of $851 million to scams in 2020, with the pandemic only exacerbating the situation. By August this year, total losses to scams had already exceeded those reported in all of 2020.

“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,” says Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) deputy chair Delia Rickard.

IDCARE is an Australian not-for-profit organisation dedicated to supporting those who fall victim to scams. Its report, Psychology of Scamming, reveals that Australians are among the top five nationalities most likely to fall for scams.

Read: Rise in scams targeting over-55s and how they work

So far in 2021, IDCARE says it has experienced a 43 per cent increase in the number of calls for help compared to last year and has talked to more than 140,000 people who have been scammed.

The group says Aussies’ trusting nature and general willingness to follow rules makes us a target.

“One of our cultural virtues is trust in one another and respect of authority,” the report says.

“Add to this our comparative affluence when compared to other countries, it’s no wonder that Australians are an attractive target for international scam groups.”

Read: Are scammers using your phone number for fake calls?

IDCARE says a key factor in a scam’s success is whether or not the scammers are able to imitate a trusted source, such as a person’s bank or utilities company, to increase the scam’s believability.

“What did victims of scams say explained or influenced their belief in the scammer?” the report asks.

“The use of a well-known brand impersonated by the scammer was a key influence in almost half of these cases.

“Scammers don’t necessarily have the victims’ details, it is simply a numbers game and one where if over a million attempts are made a month and a 1 per cent success rate is achieved, resulting in an average over $10,000 loss, then these groups can be netting over $100 million a month.”

Read: Services Australia warns of realistic myGov impersonation scam

The report goes even deeper into what is going on inside our brains when we fall for scams.

Scammers often use fear as a motivator for their targets.

It’s used to influence a person’s subconscious and lessen the ability for an individual’s prefrontal cortex – our rational thinking part of the brain – to respond.

IDCARE says it’s precisely this physical reaction the scammers are seeking and that a great deal of effort goes into the deception.

“Many people who fall victim to scams say, ‘I always said it could never happen to me.’ They kick themselves, feel embarrassed and are ashamed of their actions,” the report says.

“What many don’t realise is that scammers are masters of deception and use many psychological tricks to engage our subconscious.”

The New Daily offered the following chilling account of a scam that cost a West Australian couple almost $50,000 in 24 hours.

It started with a Microsoft pop-up on 82-year-old George’s computer screen. Thinking it was genuine, George* called the listed number for technical support and the person who answered requested remote access to his computer.

The first scam came when the couple was told their computer had a problem and they needed to complete a form to receive a $250 refund for the inconvenience. Instead, $25,000 turned up in their bank account, which the technician told them was a mistake and begged them to transfer the money back, by going into a branch, which they did.

They were then instructed to go to another branch and transfer another $24,750 because the initial transfer had not gone through. They did as instructed.

The couple lost another $4000 – supposedly for an antivirus program – when, suspecting it was a fake, they searched online for a Microsoft support number. This was again answered by scammers, who had remote access to their computer.

IDCARE is a not-for-profit support service for Australian and New Zealand victims of cybercrime and identity fraud. They can be contacted on 1300 432 273.

Have you fallen victim to a scam? Do you think you know how to spot one? Let us know in the comments section below.

* Not his real name.

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Written by Brad Lockyer



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