We’re in the midst of a scamdemic — here’s what to do about it

Grace Macej 23 Aug 2022

Scams are reaching New Zealanders and Australians via multiple communications channels on a weekly basis.

We’ve recently conducted research revealing the extent of the scamdemic currently facing New Zealanders and Australians. A quarter of Australians and a third of New Zealanders encounter scams on a weekly basis, and 3 in 4 Australians and 3 in 5 New Zealanders have experienced a spike in attempted scams in the last 12 months.

Historically, email and phone calls have been the main means by which scammers target their victims. Today, that risk has now spread to multiple communications channels, with scams reaching individuals via email, text message, social media, and messaging apps such as WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger.

Although our research reveals that most Australians (84%) and New Zealanders (89%) believe they can identify a scam, local coverage from the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s (ACCC) Scamwatch and CERT NZ tells a different story: Australians have reported over $295 million lost to scams in 2022 (June), compared with $323.7 million over all of 2021, while New Zealanders have reported a significant $3.7 million in financial losses to scams in the first quarter of 2022.

Stephen Kho, Cybersecurity Expert at Avast says, “We are in the midst of a scamdemic, and there is a clear disconnect between Australians’ and New Zealanders’ perceived confidence in ability to identify a scam and the increasing amount of money being lost to scams every year. In reality, this is being further fuelled by our own fear of embarrassment, with roughly half of Australians and New Zealanders admitting they would feel embarrassed if they fell for a scam despite the prevalence and sophistication of some of these scams, as scammers get sharper with their tools and scams become increasingly more targeted to individuals’ situations.”

Destigmatizing the experience of being scammed

Our research shows that around 9 in 10 respondents agree that online scams are becoming much more sophisticated, and about half of the respondents feel that scams are increasingly becoming more personal and targeted. Many admit that they would be more likely to fall for a scam that addresses them personally by name.

“The best tool we have for combating this scamdemic is to make a unified effort to speak up about our experiences to help educate others on what to look out for, as scammers become craftier and target us in new ways every day,” Kho says.

To help educate digital citizens around scams and trigger important conversations and knowledge sharing with family and friends, we’ve created the Scamdemic Centre.

The vast majority of both Australians and New Zealanders agree that there needs to be more education around how to avoid falling for a scam, and our Scamdemic Centre is aimed at playing a role in that while also encouraging individuals to share their experiences to further educate the wider digital community and help tackle this ever-growing issue.

Importantly, people are speaking up about their experiences being scammed. Kimberley, who lives in Wollongong, Australia, shares her experience with a crypto scam that she encountered on TikTok. “I lost over $1,000 through the social media app, TikTok. Going through TikTok, I was being targeted by content creators pushing AI marketing who were showing their profit margins made from their investments. After some time of following one of these creators and seeing how much money was made and how easy it was to take your earnings out of the account, I decided to invest,” said Kimberley.

She goes on to describe how she lost $1,000 AUD through the scam, explaining, “They only accepted cryptocurrency, and I created an account and transferred over $1,000 AUD in cryptocurrency. It wasn’t until I tried to transfer the money out of the account that I realized it was a scam, as I wasn’t able to take money out of the account. I tell my friends and family to not trust what they see on social media if it seems too good to be true.”

Why are scams becoming more difficult to spot?

The three main reasons that Australians and New Zealanders believe scams are becoming increasingly difficult to spot are as follows:

  • Advanced technology being readily available to scammers

  • The many ways scammers can gain access to their victims’ personal information (such as text, email, and social media)

  • The belief that people share too much information online, making them easier targets in the eyes of cybercriminals

Australians and New Zealanders also recognize that people are getting complacent with their online security (44% and 51%, respectively), but with digital security products like Avast One, this is easily rectified.

How to speak to loved ones about identifying and avoiding scams

  • Act out scenarios: Rather than giving loved ones a list of do’s and don’ts, educate them about the situations they might find themselves in. For instance – if you have an elderly loved one who uses their land line as their main form of communication, talk them through what to do if they find themselves on the other end of a suspicious caller asking for their personal details. Another tactic is to write them a refusal script with statements such as “Don’t call again”, or “I don’t give out that information over the phone”. 

  • Education is key: Share real-life examples of scams with your loved ones that you have experienced. Sharing stories will help your loved ones understand how easy it is to fall victim to often very crafty and legitimate-looking scams. Send your loved ones articles about different types of common scams and keep them informed as to any scams that are currently circulating.

  • If you’re unsure, then ask: Start family and friend group chats where you can share screenshots of potential scams with each other and allow members to share instances where they are not sure if they are receiving a scam or a legitimate request. It’s always ok to ask questions and to ask someone you trust for their opinion on the offer, deal, email, phone call, or text message.

  • There’s no shame in falling victim: It’s easy to fall into the trap of a scam. Scammers are becoming increasingly better at disguising themselves as businesses, organizations, and individuals. Remind friends and loved ones that it’s ok to question the legitimacy of something before engaging with anything they come across through their device or over the phone. 

  • Encourage a second defense: Having an open line of communication with family and friends about scams is important, and so is having up-to-date security as a last line of defense when these conversations aren’t enough. Make sure your digital security products are up to date and encourage family and friends to have the appropriate security too. 

Together, we can destigmatize the experience of being scammed so we can all live safer online lives.

For more information, check out the Scamdemic Centre. To update your digital security, download Avast Free Antivirus.

The survey was conducted by Pureprofile on behalf of Avast, between 6th June 6-13, 2022, and between June 6-8, 2022, with a nationally representative sample of 1,005 respondents in New Zealand aged 18-65+ years old and 1,010 respondents in Australia aged 18-65+ years old, respectively. 

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