Scamwatch is warning a “sneaky and sophisticated” text message ruse targeting parents has already cost Australians almost $4 million.
- The ACCC says it has received 2,500 reports already this year about the “Hi Mum” scam
- Australians have already lost $3.8 million to the scam
- A national support service says it has seen cases quadruple in the past three months
Dubbed the “Hi Mum” scam, the criminals impersonate a household member, saying they’ve broken their phone and can’t access their online banking, before asking the victim to transfer money into an account.
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) says it’s been overwhelmed with complaints about the scam.
“We’ve had about 2,500 reports about it with $3.8 million reported lost to the ACCC and we only get about 13 per cent of complaints, so you can see the real losses are enormous,” ACCC deputy chair Delia Rickard said.
“It’s very prolific. It’s one of those ones we’ve just been flooded with complaints about, so they clearly are covering Australia.”
The scam was first detected in Australia earlier this year and it is now making its way to regional centers, with no signs of slowing down.
“The graph is still going upwards on this scam, so I think we will continue to see it for a while,” Ms Rickard said.
Queensland-based charity IDCARE has been assisting individuals who have lost up to $40,000 to the scam.
“In the last three months there’s been a quadrupling of cases coming through IDCARE,” founder Dave Lacey said.
“Around 90 per cent of people who come to IDCARE haven’t been to Scamwatch or haven’t been to police.
“We know that official government statistics are really just the tip of the iceberg.”
It’s a trend that has been reflected within the Queensland Police Service Cyber Crime Unit, which has seen an increase in complaints in recent months.
“[The amount lost] varies. We are seeing anything from about $5,000 to $50,000,” Detective Acting Senior Sergeant David Beattie said.
So why has it been so successful?
Experts attribute the success of the scam to its effectiveness in appealing to people’s emotions. Many scam victims feel compelled to act before taking the time to consider where the message has come from.
“It tugs on all those human relationship feelings we have for the people we’re close to,” Ms Rickard said.
“It’s just too easy for people to fall for this scam.”
Mr Lacey said regional locations were worse affected by scams like this.
“It just points to this picture that the criminals are looking for ways to mass communicate, they are also looking for ways to impersonate loved ones in the hope that people are going to act without thinking,” he said.
“For many, that can be such a devastating consequence in pursuing that.
“We do see an amplified negative impact for people in the bush in remote and regional locations.”
Getting money back is the exception
Scamwatch has encouraged people who think they may have fallen victim to let their bank know as soon as possible.
“It’s rare to get your money back but it does happen,” Ms Rickard said.
Mr Lacey said their organization had had about 150,000 interactions with the community over the past 12 months for various scams.
He anticipates the need for their scam-related support services will increase by 30 per cent in the next 12 months.
He said tracking scams such as Hi Mum was almost impossible and intervention from international law enforcement was required.
“The money is going all over the place,” he said.
“We see it going to America, we see it going to Asia, we see it go to Europe, so it’s part of the scammers’ repertoire to conceal and contort not just where the communication is coming from but where the money is going as well .
“That’s what makes law enforcement all the more challenging.
“This is not a job for local police, this is international organized crime at its best.”