Voice of the Industry

Online scams have become a global epidemic

Friday 10 February 2023 10:06 CET | Editor: Irina Ionescu | Voice of the industry

An estimated 293 million scam reports were filed and USD 55.3 billion was lost in scams in 2021 worldwide. Jorij Abraham, General Manager at ScamAdviser.com and The Global Anti-Scam Alliance, tackles the most common types of scams and how they spread across the globe, creating a new epidemic.

Scammers have proven more successful in 2021 than ever before. The number of scams reported increased by 10.2% from 266, in 2020, to 293 million reports in 2021. Scammers use any crisis to scam people. Moving from pre-ordering COVID-19 vaccination at the beginning of 2021, to cheap flight tickets for Hajj pilgrims, ‘supporting’ victims from the Australian bushfires, ‘helping’ Ukrainian refugees, and, more recently, tickets to Queen Elizabeth’s funeral memorial and government energy grants.

The bloody facts

With 4.72 billion internet users, 60.1% of the global population is now spending nearly seven hours every day online, pushing the economy towards digitalisation at an increasing rate. Under this climate, crime is following quickly, with most Western countries reporting that online scams are now the most reported type of crime. 

Figure 1: Scams are in many countries now the most reported type of crime


According to the Australian Competition and Consumer Authority (ACCC), 96% of Australians have been exposed to a scam in the last 5 years with half of these contacted weekly or daily by scammers. In the UK, 50% of TCSEW respondents reported receiving an email, text, or social media message that may have been phishing.

No longer a Western disease

Scams are no longer a Western disease. 53% of Filipinos stated they were targeted by fraudsters in three months’ time, with 11% of them ending up as victims. Similarly, other developing countries including Brazil, Ghana, Nigeria, and Kenya reported increases in online scams, especially via mobile phones. 

In Nigeria, the number of transactions via mobile channels increased by 164% in 2021, and, as a result, mobile scams boomed as well. 62% of Saudi Arabia consumers received spam and scam messages, mainly on their mobiles and 14% admitted falling for the scam and losing money. In South Africa, two massive data breaches caused a tsunami of phishing attacks using highly personal data. Indonesia reports that 25% of its citizens have been a victim of online fraud, making it the second-largest reported type of crime in the country. 

Social media – the stepping stone for scammers

In nearly all countries, social media platforms are plagued by scammers trying to lure victims. According to Pakistani authorities, 23% of the online crime complaints received start on Facebook. Indonesia states that 51% of the scams start on social media, while in the US, more than one in four people who reported losing money to fraud in 2021 claimed it started on social media with an ad, a post, or a message. 

There seems to be a trend to make social media more accountable. ACCC is taking legal action over alleged misleading conduct by Meta for publishing scam celebrity crypto ads on Facebook. On a positive note, in Malaysia, Meta is supporting an online scam awareness campaign.

Get them while they’re young

Another scam trend several countries, like Brazil, China, Finland, the Netherlands, New Zealand, and Thailand are reporting, is that young people are targeted more and lose more frequent money than the elderly. However, seniors still lose the most money, especially to investment/ crypto scams.

In Finland, students seem to be a targeted group. The worst-hit age group was individuals between 18 and 30 years old (23.3%), who were scammed 8% more, compared to 2020. New Zealand reports that 55% of the people who call out scams are 40, while a study from Thailand shows that Generation Y and Z are the most vulnerable to online scams due to the amount of time they spend online. 

Similarly, a Chinese survey of college students reported that more than a tenth of the respondents lost money to scammers, which prompted the Chinese government to launch a new wave of education campaigns aimed at making young adults more wary.

Scamming as an industry

Scams have been industrialising for years. In a recent development, Taiwanese and Chinese citizens are tricked by human traffickers who are mainly targeting young Asian people via social media, offering well-paid work and accommodation in countries like Cambodia, Thailand, Myanmar, and Laos. On arrival, their passports are taken, and they are sold to different groups and forced to work in offices running illegal phone or online scams. Taiwan authorities claim almost 5,000 citizens were recorded travelling to Cambodia and not returning.

Another development is the rapid growth of SaaS (Scam-as-a-Service). Scams are automated and increasingly fine-tuned to specific target groups. Scam scripts (websites) are developed and distributed to local scam organisations. Cybercriminals also professionalise in specific specialisations (traffic generation via social media, text, and email spamming, cryptocurrency laundering, retargeting of scam victims). 

Similar to private companies such as ScamAdviser.com and Trend Micro, more countries are starting to offer tools to their citizens to check for malicious websites, email addresses, bank accounts, cryptocurrency addresses, and phone numbers. Malaysia is taking this one step further by offering a search engine and app that allows the public to check phone and bank account numbers used by crime syndicates.

The cure for scams?

Available data shows that only 0.05% of all cybercrimes are prosecuted. Raising awareness is not enough. 

Prevention could take the form of a global sharing system of scam data (be it domains, email addresses, cryptocurrency addresses, or bank accounts). The data would only be used by consumers to assess the risk of being scammed, but also to proactively block or take down malicious assets. 

National initiatives like those of the Belgium Cybersecurity Center, where consumers can forward phishing emails and data is used in real-time to block websites have already proven to reduce the number of scams. The next step is taking these kinds of initiatives internationally. 

This editorial is part of The Paypers' Fraud Prevention in Ecommerce Report 2022-2023, the ultimate source of knowledge that delves into the world of fraud prevention, revealing the most effective security methods for companies to stay one step away from bad actors and secure their businesses. 


About Jorij Abraham

Jorij Abraham has been part of the international ecommerce community since 1997. He has been an ecommerce manager at Bijenkorf, TUI, an online publisher at Sanoma Media, and Director of Consulting at Unic. He also co-founded two companies: eVentures Europe and vZine. From 2013-2017 Jorij has been Director of Research & Advise at Thuiswinkel.org and Ecommerce Europe. Since 2017 he runs the Global Anti Scam Alliance and ScamAdviser.com. 

About the Global Anti Scam Alliance (GASA)

The mission of the Global Anti Scam Alliance (GASA) is to protect consumers worldwide from scams by raising awareness, enabling hands-on tools for consumers and law enforcement, facilitating knowledge sharing, organising research, supporting the development of (legal) best practices, and offering training and education. To find answers, GASA is organising the Global Anti Scam Summit to define concrete actions to combat online fraud.

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Keywords: scam, fraud management, fraud detection, online fraud, COVID-19, digitalisation, fraud prevention, identity theft, identity fraud, phishing, crypto
Categories: Fraud & Financial Crime
Companies: ScamAdviser
Countries: World
This article is part of category

Fraud & Financial Crime


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