OVERVIEW OF PERSONAL FRAUD
SOCIAL AND POLICY CONTEXT
As technology advances the lives of Australian people and businesses, personal fraud has become an ever growing threat to personal and financial security, as well as the economy and global commerce. Personal fraud has fast become one of the most prevalent contemporary crimes society is dealing with, and the impacts are far reaching. Rapid expansion and availability of internet technology and the increase in electronic storage, transmission and sharing of information has increased our vulnerability to electronic fraud, particularly in recent years. Although the use of stolen, fabricated or manipulated identities to commit or enable crime is not a new phenomenon (Smith 2011 cited in Smith and Hutchings 2014), it has been enhanced by this expansion of new technologies and our change in online behaviour. For example, the increased global use of social media has provided more opportunities for criminals to falsify identities and commit online fraud offences. GPS-enabled devices (such as phones) that share location information may reveal personal information such as home address or work address, leaving us vulnerable to personal fraud crimes. In the past 5 years alone, there has been a significant increase in online retail purchasing, online banking (including PayPal and BPAY) and tap-and-go card payments, which has contributed to an increased risk of personal details being accessed. We are also more vulnerable to online scams. As noted by Smith and Hutchings (2014) 'email has proved an effective way of disseminating advance fee letters, as the true identity of the sender is easy to disguise and original supporting documentation unable to be checked for authenticity'.
With increasing levels of fraud, financial institutions have become more experienced in identifying fraud, and can terminate fraudulent transactions often before the victim realises they are a victim. The private and public sectors continue to work together to tackle the growing concern of personal fraud, including the establishment of bodies such as SCAMWatch, the Australian Cybercrime Online Reporting Network (ACORN) and the Australian Payments Clearing House (APCA). These initiatives contribute to a whole-of-government approach to increase community awareness through public education campaigns, as well as generating interest around personal fraud research and enhancing enforcement activity against personal fraud.
The scale and impact of personal fraud is hard to measure, due to issues of definition, awareness of victimisation, low reporting rates and inconsistent data recording practices among agencies that detect or deal with these incidents. This survey provides a national benchmark measure of the extent to which Australians are aware that they have been exposed to a range of personal frauds, whether they responded to a selected range of personal frauds, and whether they incurred any financial loss as a result of their experience of personal fraud. Through gathering detailed demographics about those experiencing higher rates of victimisation, it is possible to develop more robust fraud prevention policies. Developing sound statistical data and raising awareness around protecting identity will be essential in decreasing the threat of personal fraud and preserving online safety in the future.
MEASURING PERSONAL FRAUD
The objective of a fraud is to gain financial or other advantage over a person by means of deception. Fraudulent activities can be undertaken in various ways and therefore are difficult to identify. This makes measuring the occurrence of these incidents within the community a complex task.
The accuracy of personal fraud statistics can be affected by a range of factors. Administrative by-product data for personal fraud are complicated due to the lack of a single centralised body. This is made even more difficult by the fact that not everyone who experiences fraud will become aware of it or report it. Data collected using household surveys also have limitations, such as recall difficulties and willingness to reveal certain information.
For the Personal Fraud Survey there are various factors that may impact on the results.
· The longer the elapsed time period, the less likely it is that an incident will be recalled accurately. Given this issue, those surveyed during the reference period (June 2014 to July 2015) were asked to recall incidents that occurred only in the 12 months prior to the date of their interview, or five years in the case of identity theft.
· Sometimes persons may have difficulty in judging whether some of their experiences have been legitimate or fraudulent.
· As personal fraud activities aim to deceive victims, some persons may never discover frauds that have been perpetrated against them, or may discover such events long after they have taken place.
· Persons may not be willing to reveal if they have been deceived or have incurred significant financial loss.
· Persons may also consider the incidents too trivial to be considered fraud.
This publication presents findings from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) 2014-15 Personal Fraud Survey conducted throughout Australia from July 2014 to June 2015. The last Personal Fraud Survey was conducted in 2010-11 and comparisons between 2010-11 data and 2014-15 data can generally be made. Comparisons cannot be made for identity theft due to a change in the survey questionnaire wording, or for specific categories of scams, as these categories are generally different in the 2014-15 survey. See the Explanatory Notes, for further information about the differences between the 2010-11 and 2014-15 surveys.
Footnote: Smith RG and Hutchings A (2014). 'Identity crime and misuse in Australia: Results of the 2013 online survey.' Australian Institute of Criminology, Research and Public Policy Series, No. 128.