The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has warned young Australians and the Chinese community against threat-based scams that have seen more than $8.8 million lost this year.
The competition watchdog issued an alert on the scams on Monday, warning that scammers will pretend to be from government-related agencies such as the Australian Taxation Office or police departments to intimidate victims.
The scams work based on fear and people’s instincts to comply with what appears to be authority, the watchdog said, and are largely phone-based.
Also read: ATO gives tax deadline warning
Young Aussies, Chinese community targeted
Young people seem to be most vulnerable, with those under 24 losing more than $4.1 million to these scams and women losing three times more money than men.
More than 18,000 such scams have been reported to Scamwatch – a spike of 40 per cent on the year before.
“It is extremely concerning that young people are being so severely emotionally and financially impacted by threat based scams,” said ACCC deputy chair Delia Rickard.
“These losses can be devastating and they can also lead to a loss of trust in authority, meaning victims of threat based scams may be less likely to seek help or advice from legitimate agencies in the future.”
Those who speak English as a second language are particularly vulnerable, and many scams target the Chinese-speaking community.
Nearly three quarters (74 per cent) of all threat-based scammers were impersonating Chinese authority, leaving people $6.5 million out-of-pocket.
The scams aim at Mandarin-speakers across Australia, and pretend to be calling from the Chinese embassy, police, or other government departments.
“Threat based scams disproportionately impact people with English as a second language, including foreign students, who may not fully understand Australian law,” said Rickard.
“Victims will often provide personal information to scammers, as they believe they are dealing with a government agency, and this can lead to identity theft or falling victim to further scams.”
Scamwatch has also recorded a rise in robo-calls that pretend to be calling from government agencies like the Department of Home Affairs or Services Australia.
Victims are told by the pre-recorded messages to ‘dial 1’ to speak to an investigator.
But governments will never send out pre-recorded messages, or threaten people with immediate arrest, said Rickard.
“If you’re not sure whether a call is legitimate, hang up and call the organisation directly by finding their details through an independent search.”
“Never send money or give credit card details or personal information to anyone you don’t know or trust and never by email or over the phone.”
Australians have lost more than $116.5 million to scams this year, and the number of scams being reported to Scamwatch is rising.
Any scams involving the ATO can also be reported here.
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