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Country-wide phishing reports up 75% in 2020

19 Jan 2021

Australians lost a combined sum of $176.1 million to all types of scams in 2020, up 23.1% from the $142.9 million reported in 2019, according to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s Scamwatch. 

At the same time, the number of scams rose to 216,089 in all of 2020, 28.8% higher than the 167,795 scams recorded in 2019. 

More money was lost in December than in any other month in 2020. 

The last month of the year saw a combined loss of $22.4 million, up 19.7% from the $18.7 million lost in November. 

20,241 scams were reported in December across the country, down 16.3% from the 22,122 reported in November. 

Top types of scams reported

Phishing in 2020 was once again the most reported type of scam, but with much larger numbers than in 2019. 

Over the past year, Australians reported 44,084 phishing attacks, up 75% from the 25,168 reported the previous year.

The most damaging types of scams over the past year in terms of money lost were investment scams ($66.4 million lost), dating & romance scams ($37.2 million lost), false billing ($18 million), threats to life or arrest ($11.5 million lost) and online shopping scams ($8.4 million lost). 

Delivery method

In 2020, the most ‘profitable’ delivery method used by scammers was via phone calls and emails. 

Australians reported a total of $48.08 million lost to illegitimate phone calls in 2020, up from $32.57 million lost in 2019. 

Phone calls were also the most prevalent delivery method with a total of 103,153 attacks in 2020, significantly higher than the 69,521 reported in 2019. 

Email attacks also went up from 40,277 reported attacks in 2019 to 47,502 in 2020. Money stolen via emails also rose from $28.36 million in 2019 to $34.28 million in 2020. 

“After the consistently high level of scam activity we’ve witnessed month-to-month throughout 2020, these annual statistics paint the real picture of the unfortunate growth we’ve seen,” Proofpoint A/NZ area vice-president Crispin Kerr says. 

“The huge rise in phishing scams (up 75% from 2019) is perhaps the most concerning statistic of all in terms of sheer volume. However, as a tactic used by scammers, it’s not surprising to see that phishing was again so popular. It has a low entry barrier for cybercriminals with a high-value return. 

“Phishing emails are very easy to create, require little technical knowledge and, most importantly, depend solely on one user clicking to succeed. Unfortunately, threat actors have actively been using social engineering to convince people to click a link or open attachments, by playing on people's fears relating to COVID-19, throughout the year. 

“As we enter 2021, with promising news of vaccine rollouts taking place, we would advise people to remain vigilant against these types of phishing attacks as scammers will follow the news-cycle closely to adapt their tactics and lures to topical themes. 

“Individuals should never click on links, open attachments, or disclose sensitive/financial information in response to unsolicited communications.”