Scammers are targeting Indigenous Australians: ACCC

Cons ripping off Indigenous people are at an all-time high.

and Rachael Hocking

Scams targeting Indigenous Australians have hit the highest levels 'ever recorded' following an annual surge greater than 80%, a report has found.

The ACCC's annual Targeting Scams report reveals 1499 Indigenous people fell victim to scams in 2016, an 87% increase compared to the year before.

These scams cost the Indigenous community nearly $1.5m in 2016, with the average con jumping a thousand dollars to $8174.

The most popular scam used against Indigenous people is known as 'advance fee fraud scams', where a scammer will make contact – usually over phone, email or social media – pretending to be from a government department telling to-be victims they are entitled to a rebate.

But in order to claim these non-existent rebates, an upfront fee must be paid.

The impact on Indigenous people is described as "huge" by Aaron Davis, the Managing Director of the Indigenous Consumer Assistance Network (ICAN).

"When you look at the history of Indigenous people, probably about three generations have been in the Australian financial marketplace.

"They are vulnerable when it comes to those types of transactions and believe things to be true when a government department says they owe them money."

ICAN financial counsellors frequently deal with cases involving Dating and Romance scams, says Davis, where scammers prey on the lonely and ask them to send money so they can afford transport to visit.

"The relationship [scams] can have big impacts, where people are sending thousands of dollars to South Africa to bring a 'partner' over," Davis told CHOICE.

"People on low-to-medium incomes, it has a huge financial impact on their families. And the financial impact moves onto health impacts."

Indigenous people lost more than $852,000 in dating and romance cons. These scams were often orchestrated over social media platforms, such as Facebook.

Outreach programs aimed at educating Indigenous communities about scams and fair trading issues are being conducted by the consumer watchdog, says Delia Rickard, the deputy chair of the ACCC.

"Given the increasingly sophisticated tactics and sheer volume of scam activity, it's more important than ever that we can educate and empower Indigenous peoples to avoid scams wherever possible."