Every year, when the holiday season comes around, we also have to keep an eye out for scammers who can spoil the fun. Because scammers are more active during the holidays, they target us while we’re on our guard.
So far in 2022, Australians have lost almost half a billion dollars to fraud, significantly more than this time last year. Most of these losses — about $300 million — involved investment or cryptocurrency scams.
Researchers at Deakin University’s Cyber Security Research Center had the opportunity to interview recent victims of these scams. Here’s what we got.
Anyone can fall for fraud
I was shocked and could not accept that this had happened to me even though I was very careful. […] It was so much money that I was stunned for a couple of minutes. – (26-year-old female office manager from South Australia)
The more sophisticated these scams are, the less discriminating the criminals are about who they target. This is reflected in recent victim demographics, which show diverse backgrounds, a more even distribution among many age groups, and an almost complete breakdown by gender.
So, how can you spot these scams and where can you get help if you are a victim?
If it seems too good to be true, it might just be a scam.
I’m confused, the broken ground under my feet means it’s a nightmare, it’s going to take me a very long time financially and mentally to recover from it. – (36 year old female, lawyer from Victoria)
Most crypto scams involve the victim buying and sending poor crypto to the beneficiary’s account in what appears to be a legitimate investment opportunity.
Cryptocurrency is the currency of choice for this type of crime, as it is unregulated, traceable and transactions cannot be reversed.
Victims of such scams are targeted using a number of different methods, including:
Investment scams; Fraudsters pretend to be investment managers to make huge profits on crypto investments. They get the victim to transfer money and escape with them.
“Pump and dump”; Fraudsters often announce a new cryptocurrency or NFT project and artificially inflate its value. Once enough victims have invested, the fraudsters sell their stake, leaving victims with a worthless cryptocurrency, or NFT.
Love scams; It includes dating forums, social media or direct message scammers to engage with you, gain your trust and create an amazing investment opportunity that can generate high returns, or ask for cryptocurrency to cover medical or travel expenses.
phishing scams; An old but still effective scam is sending malicious e-mails or messages with links to fake websites hoping to get a big return on investment or just stealing credentials to get users’ digital currency wallets.
Ponzi schemes: A type of investment scam in which the fraudsters use cryptocurrencies collected from multiple victims to pay high interest to some of them; When victims withdraw a lot of money, the fraudsters get away with all the investments.
Mining scams; Fraudsters try to convince victims to buy cryptocurrency in order to use it for further mining, but in reality there is no mining at all – the fraudsters make transfers that look like a return on investment. Over time, the victim invests more, and the fraudsters take it all.
Although methods have evolved and changed, the signs of potential fraud remain relatively the same.
- Very high returns with little or no risk prospects
- Proprietary or secret strategies to gain advantage
- In the absence of liquidity, a minimum deposit amount is required before funds can be released.
Where to look for help if you’ve been scammed
I felt helpless, I didn’t know what to do, I didn’t know who to contact, I was so embarrassed and I kept blaming myself. – (72 year old male, Victorian accountant)
What to do next if you think you’ve fallen victim to one of these scams:
- Report it to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) here or contact the relevant authorities as per the advice on the ScamWatch website.
- Contact your friends and family members and inform them of scams; They can be a source of help and support in such times
- As these events can have a psychological impact, it is recommended that you talk to your GP, health professional or someone you trust.
- You can also reach out to counseling services like LifeLine, Beyond Blue, Suicide Prevention, Men’s Line and more for help and support.
If you find yourself in a difficult situation, please remember that help and support is available.
Finally, keep the following advice in mind to prevent yourself from becoming the next statistic during the holiday season.
- Do not share your personal details with people online or on the phone
- Don’t invest in something you don’t deserve
- If in doubt, talk to an expert or search for online resources yourself (don’t trust any links the scammers send you).
Ashish Nanda, Cyber CRC Research Fellow, Center for Cyber Security Research and Innovation (CSRI); Deakin University; Jeb Webb, Senior Researcher, Center for Cyber Security Research and Innovation (CSRI); Deakin University; Jongkil Jae Yong, Cyber CRC Senior Research Fellow, Cyber Security Research and Innovation (CSRI); Deakin University; Mohammed Reza Nosuhi, Cyber CRC Research Fellow, Center for Cyber Security Research and Innovation (CSRI), Deakin University; Deakin Universityand Syed Wajid Ali Shah, Research Fellow at CSCRC, Center for Cyber Security Research and Innovation; Deakin University
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