|ABC News - By consumer affairs reporter Amy Bainbridge - 14-12-30 Click here for original article Back to Articles
Why are we being scammed in record numbers?
Australians are on track to rack up $90 million in losses to scammers for 2014, a slight increase on last year's figures.
The latest data from the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) shows dating and romance scams make up the overwhelming majority of fraud.
But the most complaints are made about advance fee fraud, such as scammers claiming to need help to get money out of a foreign bank account.
The ABC covered many scam stories this year, and each time audience members wrote in to say the victim was "silly" to fall into the trap.
So why are we falling for scams? Are we more gullible than people in other countries, and is anyone truly immune?
The ABC asked experts about the reasons Australians are losing millions to scammers.
Their responses might surprise you.
Social isolation, wealth and internet connectivity are the major factors why Australians are being scammed, according to Detective Superintendent Brian Hay from the Queensland Police Fraud and Cybercrime Group.
"What makes us so high on the agenda is that we do have a reputation of being a wealthy country," he told the ABC.
"We are one of the more internet-connected communities on the planet, so [the scammers] have a greater density of population to make a call.
"Another one is because we're a continent and an island, we actually are sometimes the subject of trial and error before they're perpetrated on other parts of the world - we're like a test group.
"I think culturally we have a trusting nature, we have an ageing population and that makes us vulnerable to a point, and we've developed a culture where we don't necessarily have the strongest bond with our seniors and older members of our family like other cultures.
"Therefore if we're not communicating every day, we see these criminals overseas deliberately targeting and preying on these people."
Detective Superintendent Hay said millions of people were being scammed all over the world, and he does not believe Australians are more likely to be victims than people in other English-speaking countries.
"In fact, if you look at a target country, you've got huge losses in scams in the UK, massive losses in the United States," he said.
"We've been working with the Nigerian Economic Financial Crimes Commission since 2006, and we obtained some hard drives from some of the Nigerian criminals, and when we looked at it nearly their entire target base was aimed at the United States.
"What's really interesting is Queensland Police has recently been working closely with Indian police services.
We had a delegation of 80 Indian superintendents come out here, and I gave them a presentation on cybercrime and I talked to them about Nigeria and advance-fee frauds and they all knew about it.
"They are having particular problems with members of the Indian community losing money to Nigerian fraud."
The consumer behaviour specialist:
Dr. Paul Harrison, senior lecturer in consumer behaviour at Deakin University, says it is naive to believe you are immune to being scammed.
"The reality is we are all vulnerable in different ways," he said.
"People home in on a particular story and say, 'Well, that would never happen to me'.
"The people who are scammed in dating scams are not people who are already in trusting relationships.
They're the people who are vulnerable, who are open to being trusting.
"The biggest thing underlying human behaviour and the reason we fall for scams is actually because we have a psychology where we do trust others.
"We trust institutions like banks, or when we are falling in love with somebody, we trust that the person has our best interests at heart.
"If we didn't do that, we actually wouldn't exist, there's a whole area of psychology that says people who don't trust others are a little bit sociopathic.
"So people who say 'it would never work on me', they're either sociopaths or they're underestimating the reality of the situations and how they would respond to it."
The consumer watchdog:
ACCC deputy chairwoman Delia Rickard said 90,000 people reported scams to the commission this year.
But the amount of people who were actually victims of a scam was only about 12 per cent of those reports.
"Pleasingly that's down, as opposed to 14 per cent in 2013," she said.
"So far this year, $78.1 million lost, we expect we'll end up somewhere around the $90 million mark as we did last year.
"Our rough working estimate is that's about a tenth of the total losses, but in truth we don't know.
"Some people don't know they've been scammed, many people are too embarrassed to tell anyone, or think there's nothing they can do, and they also report to a number of different authorities, so it's very difficult to know the exact number."
What can you do?
The three experts all agree on one thing: communication is key.
Detective Superintendent Hay said there were other factors at play rather than just educating people.
"We've got to learn of other social solutions, not just locking up crooks," he said.
"Because while people are willing to hand over money, there are holes in the bucket, the water will continue to leak.
"There was a study done by the University of Iowa in the neuroscience department, and they found there's a part of the brain in the frontal cortex that is responsible for cynicism and doubt.
"In all of us over the age of 60 this part of the brain deteriorates, obviously in different people at different rates, and they had a control group where some people were more advanced in their deterioration than others.
"They found that those with advanced deterioration in this part of the brain were twice as likely to fall for a scam or fraud than the others.
"What it implied is we lose our cognitive ability to discern what is fraudulent and what is not, and some in the control test still wanted to buy the product even after they were told it is fraud.
"The implications of that are massive."
Back to Articles