Australians duped out of more than $700 million in online scams

Social networking sites providing fertile ground for new romance and enterprise scams

The Australasian Consumer Fraud Taskforce (ACFT) kicked off its Fraud Fortnight initiative this week, amid initial findings that Australians have dished out more than $700 million falling for online scams.

Fraud Fortnight runs from February 24 to March 8 and aims to raise awareness of and offer precautions against deceptive and seductive scams promising prizes, true love, easy money, and attempts at identity theft.

"The first week is concentrating on what we call 'seduction scams'," said Louise Sylvan, spokesperson for Fraud Fortnight.

Seduction scams, often referred to as Nigerian scams, are those that promise free holidays, prizes, lottery wins, or true love.

"Everybody says 'how can anybody be so stupid?' but the scams are really, really clever and they really push people's buttons."

Sylvan points to the example of the lottery scam, typically targeted at older people, where a victim's name, address and personal information is used to inform them of a bogus lottery win.

The dodgy win is often backed up by a Web site and a telephone number where the victim is informed that they "simply" need to send $200 in order to process and collect a win of say, $200,000.

"You can see how people would think about that. Then of course they start to send not only money but also personal information which can result in potential identity fraud," Sylvan said.

The ACFT has been tracking money from people who have fallen victim to these types of scams, but so far the data is based only on those victims who have complained to the ACFT. The Australian Bureau of Statistics is currently investigating the overall amount.

"But in terms of advanced fee frauds it may be in the range of $700 million going out of the [Australian] economy. We do have data from the Office of Fair Trading in the UK who have finished their national research and they estimate $4 billion [out of the UK], so this is big money," Sylvan said.

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