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Nice little earner: study shows how pandemic is a bonanza for fraudsters

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The COVID-19 pandemic has not only driven breakthroughs in medical research and economic stimulus, it has also proven to be a nice little earner for fraudsters and scammers, according to a new study.

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The Australian Institute of Criminology found that some types of fraud activity have exploded during the pandemic.

And while it says Australian authorities were vigilant in protecting businesses and consumers from scams over the past year, the report insists there should be more planning to ensure fraud and corruption are better monitored during future pandemics.

“Many frauds occur regardless of health or economic crises, but some specific frauds, especially online frauds, occur in response to the circumstances involving pandemics,” the report says.

“Whatever the need for improvement of policing and prosecution to enhance legitimacy in the eyes of the public and to deter crime, the report stresses that plans for future pandemics and economic crises must include provisions for better monitoring and control of fraud.”

It found that the increased numbers of people working from home as a result of the restrictions introduced to fight the pandemic created more opportunities for online fraud.

“The range of adaptations of conventional scams to the pandemic environment has been extensive, with criminals developing scams involving PPE and fake cures, domestic pet scams, employment scams, investment frauds, travel refund and insurance scams,” it saids.

There was also “a variety of phishing attacks, identity crimes and ransomware threats involving COVID-19 scenarios, sometimes impersonating contact tracing officials to obtain personal and banking information”.

It posted to data from consumer watchdog the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission that about 4850 pandemic related scams were reported to its Scamwatch portal between January and November last year.

The institute stopped short of concluding that the pandemic caused excess fraud because it said scams might have happened anyway in a different format.

But it said the scams it did study “demonstrate the rapidity with which a least some criminals are able to adapt the narratives on which to hang their deceptions”.

The report also said economic stimulus measures like JobKeeper created more opportunities for people to defraud such schemes.

It said the Australian Taxation Office reported rejecting 6,500 applications for JobKeeper payments alone due to fraud or error.

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