Scammers took advantage of the economic crisis last year by swindling at least $128 million from Australian businesses through payment redirection schemes, particularly through the use of false billing reports which accounted for three quarters of the losses.
The figure released in a Targeting Scams report today from the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) is based on reports to Scamwatch, other government agencies, banks and payment platforms.
Scamwatch reports accounted for $18 million of the losses, which represents a 260 per cent rise year-on-year.
"Small and micro businesses made most of the reports to Scamwatch and experienced an increase in losses in 2020, although larger businesses reported the highest losses," says ACCC deputy chair Mick Keogh.
Small and micro businesses accounted for almost 60 per cent of these false billing reports, and the most common method was a business email compromise (BEC) scam with 1,300 reports and $14 million in losses to Scamwatch.
Scamwatch also observed a new type of scam in 2020 that targeted farmers looking for a good deal on tractors and farm machinery. Scammers advertised equipment at prices well below market value, and told farmers that they couldn't view the tractors prior to purchase due to government restrictions from the pandemic.
Farmers made payments to secure these special deals, when in reality the equipment never existed. Farmers were conned out of $1.1 million in these scams.
"One thing we know about scammers is that they will take advantage of a crisis," says Keogh.
Businesses were also targeted by health and medical scams in 2020. About half of the $3.9 million in total losses reported to health and medical scams were from companies, as they attempted to procure personal protective equipment for their staff to comply with government guidelines during the pandemic.
Other scam types that impacted businesses throughout the year included phishing, identity theft and hacking scams.
"It is so important for businesses to stay informed about scams so they can protect themselves," says the ACCC deputy chair.
"The ACCC provides a range of resources for businesses on how to avoid scams on the Scamwatch website and in our media releases throughout the year."
Businesses that have been scammed should contact their bank as soon as possible. If the scam occurred on a platform such as Facebook, they are advised to contact Facebook directly to report the issue.
Businesses can also report a scam to ReportCyber, which is run by the Australian Cyber Security Centre and passes reports to law enforcement agencies for assessment and intelligence purposes.
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