Need to know
- Data shows the number of scam victims and the total losses among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are on the rise
- Remote communities face unique challenges when shopping online and may receive less support when scammed
- The ACCC says education and awareness in First Nations communities will be a focus of the new National Anti-Scams Centre
When Tye Garvie needed a shipping container to store his furniture and belongings while his house was being built in Collie, Western Australia, he turned to a company he found online through Facebook.
After checking the company's website and looking up their Australian Business Number, he thought they were legitimate and paid them $3285. The company promised to deliver the container within a week.
He never heard from them again.
"It was frustrating, it's a lot of money to lose. Then we still needed a sea container, so we ended up getting another one anyway, but we couldn't recover the money from the first," he says.
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) say shipping container scams are on the rise across Australia with $1.8 million lost to this type of scam in 2022, up from $782,000 in 2021.
They have previously called on Facebook's parent company Meta to do more to take down fake shipping container pages.
Scams on the rise in WA
Tye is just one of the 50 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Western Australia who have reported scams to the state's Consumer Protection body over the last 12 months. WA Consumer Protection says the number of scams affecting First Nations consumers is on the rise, with online shopping scams like Tye's making up the highest number of scams, and investment and hacking scams accounting for the highest losses.
Commissioner for consumer protection Patricia Blake says the scams reported to the department are likely only the tip of the iceberg.
"What we understand from surveys that the ACCC has done is that we expect that only about 13% of scam losses overall are reported. This is probably even less in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities who are less likely to complain or report to government agencies when these things happen," she says.
Targeting Aboriginal communities
Blake says in many cases, like Tye's, the scams are not specifically targeting Aboriginal people, but she explains that people in remote communities who are more reliant on online purchases and have lower internet literacy rates may be more vulnerable to scams.
But in other cases she says scammers do go out of their way to target First Nations communities and this is exactly what happened in the wake of the devastating flooding in the Kimberly region in January 2023.
We expect that only about 13% of scam losses overall are reported. This is probably even less in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communitiesWA commissioner for consumer protection Patrica Blake
Following the floods, Facebook messages were sent to Kimberly residents, many of whom are Aboriginal, saying the government was offering disaster relief payments of $20,000. The messages were scams and the senders later requested fees be paid upfront to receive the payments.
WA Consumer Protection is calling for more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to come forward and share their stories of being scammed so they can better understand and combat the issue.
WA Consumer Protection says some scams are directly targeting Aboriginal communities.
ACCC concerned about increasing scam losses
The ACCC, which runs the national ScamWatch program, says it's concerned about the increasing number of scam losses by First Nations people and about access to support in remote areas.
"Indigenous Australians reported losses of $5.1 million in 2022 – up five percent compared to 2021, while the median loss for Indigenous Australian scam victims rose to $754, from $650 reported in 2021," ACCC deputy chair Catriona Lowe says.
Indigenous Australians reported losses of $5.1 million in 2022ACCC deputy chair Catriona Lowe
She says the agency also believes that rates of under-reporting of scams in First Nations communities may be higher than the general population. One of the aims of the new National Anti-Scams Centre, which will open in July, will be to address this issue.
"A key focus for the National Anti-Scam Centre will be tailoring communications for First Nations communities to remove obstacles to reporting scams and reduce the social stigma with being a victim of a scam. We will actively engage with community groups to learn how our messaging and its delivery can be most effective.
More awareness needed
Alex Price-Busch, a financial counsellor with the Indigenous Consumer Assistance Network (ICAN) based in Far North Queensland, says he often sees clients falling victim to gift card purchasing scams after being contacted on social media.
He says tailored messaging and awareness raising for First Nations communities is essential, as well as encouraging those in the community to speak up.
When people don't speak out it can run rampant through a community, and before you know it half the community has been scammed and no one has spoken out about itAlex Price-Busch, financial counsellor, ICAN
"When people don't speak out it can run rampant through a community, and before you know it half the community has been scammed and no one has spoken out about it," he says.
"People might not have grown up around the internet like people in the cities, so there needs to be some catching up in terms of looking for the telltale signs of a scam."
Stock images: Getty, unless otherwise stated.