Australians in 2009 were most prone to scams that asked for an up-front payment to secure larger, fictitious returns, an ACCC survey has found.
The report (pdf), which was launched today for National Consumer Fraud Week, revealed that 20,554 cases of scam had been reported during the year, resulting in a total loss of $70 million.
Advance fee fraud represented 54 percent of complaints to the ACCC (Australian Competition and Consumer Commission).
These included scams that offered unexpected gifts, as well as opportunities to do with sweepstakes, romance, and jobs.
The economic downturn also presented new opportunities for scammers who increasingly targeted small business operators with promises of business opportunities.
Overall scam reports had increased by 16 percent and the cases of false billing scams increased by 60 percent from the previous year.
Online shopping scams doubled to become the second most common category of scams that were reported in 2009. Such scams commonly originated on auction sites and online classifieds, the ACCC reported.
A majority of victims reported losing between $1,000 and $9,999 to scam. Fifteen people said they had lost upwards of $500,000, of which two people said they had lost more than $10 million.
Queensland's Minister for Fair Trading Peter Lawlor estimated that one in 20 Australians would be scammed in 2010, with consumers losing a total of $1 billion.
He noted that many scams may have gone unreported, as victims could be humiliated about having been conned.
Fraud Week was an initiative of the Australasian Consumer Fraud Taskforce (ACFT), which comprised 21 government departments and was led by the ACCC. This year's Online Offensive-Fighting Fraud Online campaign was slated to run from 1 to 7 March.