Bogus investments targeting those 54 and older using text messages have become the scammer’s weapon of choice, according to BDO’s inaugural Scam Culture Report, in a “golden era” for digital fraudsters.
It found more than $70 million was lost to investment scams during the last quarter of 2022–23, dwarfing amounts lost to fake government services, false billing and romantic cons.
Text messaging accounted for four out of 10 reports, overtaking fake phone calls while trends included an increase in hacked social media accounts and discounts on the Dark Web for personal information.
BDO National forensic services leader Michael Cassidy said scam activity continued to rise sharply “almost daily” with new and highly intelligent ways of targeting people being created each week.
“This is a golden era for scammers — people are using their phones to do their day-to-day admin, business systems are connected to people’s personal devices, and AI is ramping up and giving scammers an opportunity to automate and tailor their approach, meaning they will reach more people with greater ease,” he said.
The report found text messaging had overtaken phone calls as the top scam delivery method, “likely due to society’s reluctance to answer phone calls from unknown numbers” and the increased use of screening apps.
Phone calls, which dominated scam activity two years ago, had shrunk to fewer than one in five approaches while texts accounted for 39 per cent and email 26 per cent.
More money was lost to investment scams than any other method and was “possibly linked to the current difficult economic conditions, targeting unwary people looking to make extra money”.
“Despite popular belief, romance and dating scams, and hacking and identity theft, only account for 9 per cent of scam activity in Australia, with investment scams accounting for 70 per cent.” the report said.
“Other popular scams of the moment include: remote access scams (where scammers trick you into accessing their device remotely), classified scams (fake
classified ads), rebate scams (such as fake government services offering
a rebate) and health and medical products (fake cures for ailments).”
Middle-aged and older people were more frequently targeted than other groups, with 47 per cent of scam attacks aimed at those 54 and older, including one-quarter targeting the 65-plus.
The report also gives a snapshot of activity on the Dark Web, which it said had 2.7 million daily users in Australia, up from 2.5 million in 2022.
“Surprisingly, illegal trading or associated activity by criminals only makes up for approximately half of the Dark Web activity,” it said. “Of that half it is estimated 64 per cent is forums, chat rooms and data hosts, followed by narcotics trading (8 per cent), the sale of firearms (6 per cent) and financing services (6 per cent).
“The remaining 16 per cent includes such things as stolen data, services for hire, malicious software and content from extremist groups.”
The prices for some personal information on the Dark Web, such as phone/data SIM copy services and cryptocurrency account details, were being discounted while typical prices included $526 for a driver’s licence, $2,255 for passport details and $119 to hack a Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram or Telegram account.
“There is increased negotiation activity on the Dark Web, with traders and buyers communicating to negotiate their own terms. Like any marketplace, trust is crucial to make a transaction. But this is heightened on the Dark Web, because if a transaction doesn’t go to plan, you cannot go to the police.
“To address this, we are seeing sellers invite buyers to negotiate with them and reach a solution, rather than setting fixed prices with no room to move.”