Every year, many thousands of Australians try to come to terms with a surprisingly common financial setback – the loss of money through personal fraud.

Losing money is hard enough at any time – perhaps after making a poor but legitimate investment – but losing money to crooks must be particularly hard to take.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) recently released the results of a survey conducted last year showing that 453,100 people aged over 15 lost an average of $2,160 to personal fraud over the preceding 12 months. That’s a breathtaking total of almost $980 billion. See abs.gov.au

But what is even more staggering is an estimate by the ABS that six million Australians have been targeted some time in their lives by fraudsters; some of whom have succeeded in taking money from them using deceptive means.

Popular scams include attempts to use another person’s identity, fake lotteries, pyramid schemes, dodgy financial advice, get-rich-quick schemes, credit card fraud, fake bank emails, illegal early access to super savings, the notorious Nigerian letters, international investment, and the list goes on an on.

Fortunately, you can get an outline of the most common schemes and what to watch out from the websites of ASIC and the ACCC. See fido.gov.au and accc.gov.au

There are plenty of valuable tips available on how to spot a likely scam. ASIC, for instance, points out that the typical characteristics of many scams include the promise of incredibly high, low-risk returns; claimed new techniques to provide an edge over others; and the need to make an urgent decision or miss out on a great opportunity.

It is sad that part of prudent personal investment practice should surely be to protect yourself from people trying to deceptively take your money, typically in the guise of a legitimate activity. The websites mentioned above are definitely worth a close read.

By Robin Bowerman
Smart Investing
23rd July 2008
Principal & Head of Retail, Vanguard Investments Australia

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