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This week marks Scam Awareness Week, which runs from Monday 8 to Friday 12 November.

This year’s theme is ‘let’s talk scams’, with governments and community partners encouraging “everyone to start a conversation about scams to reduce stigma and help people recognise a scam sooner, or prevent scams from happening in the first place”.1

This is a crucial conversation, with Australia reporting an 89% increase in losses to scams as at September this year, with a record $211 million in losses to scams in 2021.2

While Queensland Law Society has seen a decrease in funds lost in transit by solicitors, funds lost by clients continues unabated, with life-altering impacts on the individuals and families concerned.

The Attorney-General notes the top scam complaints from consumers in Queensland have been for online shopping scams, investment scams and puppy scams.

However, scammers are quick to rebrand campaigns using current news and crises such as the pandemic. Emerging themes in 2020 and 2021 include:

  • COVID-19 scams
  • government impersonation scams
  • superannuation scams
  • vehicle sale scams
  • bushfire scams.3

Phishing scams – those that attempt to elicit personal information including bank account and credit card numbers and passwords – increased significantly in 2020, with a 75% increase.4 Scam losses reported by businesses also grew in 2020 to $18 million from $5 million in 2019 with false billing and phishing scams the most prevalent.5

What can the legal community do?

It is important to understand that many client email accounts will be compromised well before they instruct you.

The first discussions of a major financial venture are likely to trigger alerts for the criminals to act. Your clients therefore need your help to understand the risk and to take printed warnings about transferring money seriously. Measures to assess and counter funds transfer risk can be found in the QLS guide, ‘How to stop cybercriminals stealing your client’s money’.

For more information about the types of scams, how to report a scam and where to get help, visit scamwatch.gov.au. You can also subscribe to email alerts on the latest scams.

The Office of Fair Trading Queensland website also provides information on common scams, reporting a scam and details about scams targeting Queenslanders.

David Bowles is a Queensland Law Society Special Counsel, Ethics. Kerryn Sampson is a Queensland Law Society Senior Policy Solicitor.

Footnotes
1 Australian Competition & Consumer Commission (ACCC) and Scamwatch, 8 November 2021, News & alerts, ‘Scams Awareness Week 2021’.
2 ACCC & Scamwatch, 27 September 2021, News & alerts, ‘Losses reported to Scamwatch exceed $211 million, phone scams exploding’.
3 ACCC, June 2021, ‘Targeting scams; report of the ACCC on scams activity 2020’, at pp 11-13.
4 N3 at p1.
5 N3 pp13-14.

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