These figures represent a 'significant' increase of 84% compared to 2020, when Aussies lost $175.6 million through the year.

Investment scams did the most damage according to the latest figures from the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission's (ACCC) Scamwatch.

Investment scams accounted for $177 million, followed by dating and romance scams which saw people losing $52 million.

December saw the most money lost ($43.2 million) and August saw the highest number of scams reported (40,874).

New South Wales residents were collectively duped of $110 million - the highest, followed by Victoria where residents reported $74 million lost.

Crispin Kerr, Australia-New Zealand vice president at cybersecurity company Proofpoint, said the data paints an unfortunate picture of just how effective scammers were at taking advantage of Australians in the past year.

"The 84% increase in losses to scams in 2021 is significant and is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to understanding the true impact on Australians," Mr Kerr said.

"Based on the numbers for December, during the holiday season, people can become desensitised to receiving numerous advertising links for shopping deals and the like and may not think twice about opening a dangerous file or clicking a suspicious link.

"The data shows scammers were extremely active in 2021 and we anticipate this will only increase as scammers continue to evolve and update their tactics."

How are Aussies getting scammed?

While investment and romance scams were the most damaging, there were a number of other scams that saw Aussies losing millions.

Investment scams accounted for more than half of all the money lost to scams last year, and increased in prevalence by 32% compared to 2020.

"Investment scams can seem very attractive, and scammers can come across as legitimate in their promise of financial gain through the purchase of shares, funds, cryptocurrency or other high returns," Mr Kerr said.

"However, the reality is that these get-rich-quick schemes enable scammers to steal personal and financial information to siphon funds for their own gain."

Social media sites were the main hub for money loss via romance and dating scams, with 40% of scams reported resulting in money lost.

"Scammers also utilised social engineering particularly during lockdowns when people were at their most vulnerable to steal millions from Australians in dating and romance scams," Mr Kerr said.

Phishing scams - where scammers aim to gain personal information - had the highest number of reports in 2021, making up one quarter of all scams reported. This is an increase of 61% on the year prior.

Scams relating to threats to life or arrest disproportionately affected younger Australians aged 18 to 24 years old, and accounted for the highest losses at $3.3 million.

Employment and job scams also more than doubled in 2021 to $2.6 million, and identity theft scams increased threefold to $10 million.

Who is getting scammed?

Older Australians suffered the greatest loss according to the ACCC's figures, with people over 65 years old losing a total of $81.9 million throughout the year.

This demographic also reported the highest number of scams (46,282), followed by Australians aged 35 to 4 years old with 43,526 scams reported.

Men lost more to scams than women, with men reporting $190 million lost compared to $131 million reported by women.

No age group was exempt from losing money to scams, but the amount lost to scams did increase with age in 2021.

Age group Amount lost to scams Number of scams reported
Under 18 $366,592 1,984
18 to 24 $12,784,973 14,833
25 to 34 $40,357,639 39,953
35 to 44 $47,845,134 43,526
45 to 54 $57,615,063 38,892
55 to 64 $58,997,021 37,642
Over 65 $81,915,445 46,282

Source: ACCC Scamwatch

Tips to avoid getting scammed in 2022

ACCC provided a few tips to avoid being scammed

  • Use strong passwords, and don't reuse the same password twice
  • Avoid unprotected WiFi; free/open WiFi is not secure and can be used to steal personal information by hackers
  • Dodge phishing attacks as they lead to unsafe websites that gather personal data
  • Verify authenticity before you buy, take time to read reviews of products
  • Don't click on links, type in website addresses directly into your browser
  • Watch out for "lookalikes", where scammers create a site looking familiar to other brands

"The best thing to remember when it comes to scams is that if something sounds too good to be true, it most always is," Mr Kerr said.

"As scam activity increases into the new year, we urge Australians to learn how to protect themselves and their loved ones from potential scams, and to be extremely cautious."

Image by Tumisu on Pixabay