Criminals pounce on pandemic of opportunity with $10M in scams

20 August 2020

Cyber criminals are seizing on the work-from-home reality facing Australians amidst a pandemic, with Bankwest identifying a surge in remote access and IT scams over the COVID-19 period.

Bankwest customers were the target of 389 cases of remote access and IT scams between January and July – the second most prolific threat type – with a total exposure of $1,200,000.

The dangers of identity theft are the focus of this week’s National Scams Awareness Week, which Federal Government body Scamwatch said last year cost Australians $15.8 million.

Remote access scams usually involve criminals posing as tech support and contacting victims under the guise of being able to fix issues with their computer if they are permitted access to it.

Scammers then further leverage that access to personal data, such as using saved credentials to enter online banking portals, and can create backdoors to freely reconnect to the computer.

Bankwest’s scams and fraud team recorded 1582 cases in the first seven months of 2020, with a potential exposure of more than $10 million, and recovered $8.25 million in customer funds.

The most common threat facing customers in that period were investment scams, with 475 cases worth $1,782,351, as criminals seize on the financial uncertainty created by COVID-19.

Bankwest Chief Customer Officer Paul Vivian said: “Our top priority is the wellbeing of customers and the community, and it’s clear criminals are trying to capitalise on uncertainty at this time.

“We see that in the scams that are most common, with criminals using investment scams to prey on people’s financial uncertainty, and remote access threats as more people work from home.

“The best form of defence against scammers is for people to familiarise themselves with these scams and how they work, and to never permit access to third parties to personal information.

“Bankwest will do everything it can to recover customer funds, but it’s not always possible, which is why it’s so important for people to be aware of the risks out there and protect themselves.”

Scamwatch provides a wealth of material to help people protect themselves, while Bankwest’s Safe and Savvy Guide helps educate and inform customers of the dangers of scams and fraud.

Survey findings

Scam type Number of cases Exposure value ($)
Investment 475 1,782,351
Remote access/IT 389 1,782,351
Unexpected money/prize 207 152,640
Threat and penalty 92 637,000
Relationship 79 1,352,811
Business/email hack 52 5,192,979
Buying/selling 31 58,130
   Number of cases
January 190
March 187
April 241
May 237
June 220
July 222

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