Australians have lost over $8.8 million to threat based scams so far this year, and young people are reporting the highest losses.

Threat based scammers often pretend to be from government departments and rely on fear, intimidation and people’s instinct to comply with authority, to scam victims. These scams are mainly phone-based and impersonate various officials, such as police, ATO officers or government investigators.

People aged 24 and under reported losing more than $4.1 million to threat based scams and women reported losses three times higher than men.

“It is extremely concerning that young people are being so severely emotionally and financially impacted by threat based scams,” ACCC Deputy Chair Delia Rickard said.

“These losses can be devastating and they can also lead to a loss of trust in authority, meaning victims of threat based scams may be less likely to seek help or advice from legitimate agencies in the future.”

So far this year Scamwatch has received over 18,000 reports of these scams, an increase of 40 per cent compared to reports across all of 2019. 

Chinese authority scams comprised 74 per cent of all losses to threat based scams, over $6.5 million. These scams target Mandarin-speakers in Australian and impersonate authorities such as the Chinese embassy, police or other government officials.

“Threat based scams disproportionately impact people with English as a second language, including foreign students, who may not fully understand Australian law,” Ms Rickard said.

“Victims will often provide personal information to scammers, as they believe they are dealing with a government agency, and this can lead to identity theft or falling victim to further scams.”

Scamwatch has recorded an increase in robo-calls impersonating government agencies, such as the Department of Home Affairs or Services Australia, which claim the victim is under investigation and to ‘Dial 1’ to speak to an investigator.

“Government departments will never send pre-recorded messages to your phone or threaten you with immediate arrest,” Ms Rickard said.  

“If you’re not sure whether a call is legitimate, hang up and call the organisation directly by finding their details through an independent search.”

“Never send money or give credit card details or personal information to anyone you don’t know or trust and never by email or over the phone.”

More information on scams is available on the Scamwatch website, including how to make a report and where to get help.

Consumers can also download the ACCC’s Little Black Book of Scams, which has been translated into 10 languages.  

You can follow @scamwatch_gov on Twitter and subscribe to Scamwatch radar alerts.


If the scammer impersonated a government agency, contact the agency by sourcing the number from an independent search and report the scam to them. 

If you have experienced fraud or theft or the scammer is impersonating the police, contact your local police or crime stoppers on 1800 333 000.

IDCARE is a free government-funded service which works with victims of identity theft to develop a specific response plan and support them throughout the process. You can phone them on 1300 IDCARE (432273) or visit their website