Dog act: Scammers use COVID crisis to rake in the cash
Scam losses have surged by more than 40 per cent this year as shonks exploit our vulnerabilities during the coronavirus crisis.
Australians have been duped out of nearly $66 million in the first five months of 2020, new data from the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission reveals.
That's up from $46 million in the same period of 2019.
"It has been a very lucrative time for scammers," said ACCC deputy chair Delia Rickard.
The most rapid rise in losses has been from frauds threatening death or arrest, which have fleeced victims of $5.3 million in 2020, up about 300 per cent from $1.3 million last year.
The surge is due to "COVID-19 themed Chinese Authority scams" in which perpetrators demand payment to avoid arrest or deportation. Mandarin speakers are the targets.
"They are a very lucrative, terrible scam," Ms Rickard said.
Another reason for the growth in losses is the increased opportunity the virus crisis has presented rip-off merchants simply because more people are online more of the time.
Plus there has been a greater volume of electronic communication from legitimate authorities, making it harder to tell real from fake.
There's also been an alarming rise in deceptions that prey on the heightened need for companionship during isolation.
Montserrat Brown, of Rosebery in Sydney, narrowly avoided being taken in by a puppy scam.
The scheme has cost Australians at least $300,000 so far this year.
The university student posted an advertisement on Gumtree, seeking a dog.
She was contacted by a person claiming to be a nurse from Hunters Hill, offering golden retrievers.
The seller wanted a deposit or a copy of Ms Brown's identification before letting her come to see the puppies.
Ms Brown could decide the amount, which gave her some comfort.
However, before going any further with the transaction, the 19-year-old decided to do a reverse image search of the internet using the dog photos provided in a text message exchange.
"They came up on a puppy breeding site in the US," Ms Brown said.
Confronted with this information, the seller acted shocked and sent another picture - which also turned out to be ripped from the web.
Losses to online shopping scams, including fake puppies, are up 47 per cent in 2020.
The overall increase in scam losses is not due to a rise in the number of reports. Complaints are down by 10,000 on last year's levels, to 65,000.
With tax time approaching, Ms Rickard urged consumers to be wary of ATO scams.
"I think we will see considerably more this year," she said. "With people becoming unemployed or accessing benefits for the first time in their life, I think it is going to be much easier to trick people into believing they owe tax or have a rebate coming.
"Remember, the government will never ask to be paid by gift card," Ms Rickard said.
Originally published as Dog act: how scammers use COVID crisis to rake in the cash