A new wave of scams sparked by the global financial crisis has significantly increased the chances of Australians falling victim to fraud during 2009, Australasian Consumer Fraud Taskforce Chairman, Mr Peter Kell, has warned.
During this year's National Consumer Fraud Week from 2-8 March, police, government agencies, banks and other Taskforce members will be warning the community to be extra vigilant as scammers seek new ways to exploit victims.
"One in 20 Australians will fall victim to a scam this year, costing the community a total of more than a billion dollars," Mr Kell said, who is also a deputy chairman of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.
"Over 12 months, the ACCC has seen an alarming 60 per cent increase in the number of complaints and inquires about scams, with a 67 per cent increase in people reporting money lost.
"Most people know someone who has been scammed or lost money to fraud, but most people still don't think it will happen to them."
In the United Kingdom the level of fraud activity has reached a 13-year high, according to the annual KPMG Forensic Fraud Barometer survey released in
Mr Kell said Australia is facing a similar increase in consumer fraud during 2009 as the world economy tightens further.
A number of financial scams have emerged in recent months seeking to take advantage of the current financial turmoil.
"The ACCC hears from hundreds of victims every year who have been tricked by variations of well-known scams such as advance fee fraud and lottery scams," Mr Kell said.
"The global financial crisis is just the latest excuse some scammers are using to contact victims and talk them into handing over money, banking details or personal information.
"Scammers can use all kinds of tactics, including text messages and made-up profiles in social networking sites to pretend to be someone known and trusted. They use a number of avenues to reach victims, including door-to-door, snail mail, email, telephone and text messages, and over the internet.
"Scammers move quickly - Australian consumer and other law enforcement agencies were on the alert for charity scams following the Victorian bushfires, issuing warnings and tips about how to spot a scam."
National Consumer Fraud Week is an initiative of the 18 government and non-government partners that make up the Australasian Consumer Fraud Taskforce.
This year, the centrepiece of National Consumer Fraud Week is a Fraud Forum to be held in Melbourne, where expert speakers from around the country and internationally will discuss the latest trends in fraud and methods for fighting it. The stories of several real-life victims will also be told publicly for the first time.
National Consumer Fraud Week runs from 2-8 March. The Fraud Forum will be held on 2 March at the Oaks On Market hotel, 60 Market Street, Melbourne.
For more information about the Fraud Forum, scams and National Consumer Fraud Week, or to report a scam, visit www.scamwatch.gov.au or call 1300 795 995.
Media inquiries: Mr Brent Rebecca, ACCC Media, (02) 6243 1317 or 0408 995 408.
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