In the digital age, where connectivity is our lifeblood, the dark underbelly of cyberspace thrives. From ‘money muling’ to ‘sextortion’, these virtual predators exploit our vulnerabilities, leaving victims identity-compromised and out-of-pocket.

Australian online scam snapshot

  1. Card fraud: In 2021-22, 8.1% of Australians (approximately 1.7 million people) experienced card fraud. This rate increased from the previous year’s 6.9%. Men and women faced card fraud at similar rates, but age played a role. The youngest age group (15-24 years) had the lowest likelihood of falling victim (4.6%)
  2. Scams: A staggering 65% of Australians aged 15 and over encountered a scam during the same period. That’s approximately 13.2 million people! However, the good news is that the actual victimisation rate decreased from 3.6% in 2020-21 to 2.7% in 2021-22
  3. Identity theft: About 8% of Aussies (around 159,600 individuals) grappled with identity theft. This insidious crime involves unauthorised use of personal information, leaving victims vulnerable and violated
  4. Online impersonation: Approximately 5% of the population (roughly 509,500 people) faced online impersonation. Scammers don masks, assuming false identities to deceive and manipulate

What levers and actions can federal agencies can take to help address these scams and hoaxes?

Implement the National Strategy for Identity Resilience

The first key action that federal government and regulators can take is to accelerate and implement the National Strategy for Identity Resilience. The primary benefit of doing this will be the centralisation, storage and access of sensitive personal information –  date of birth or home address – in one place. The idea is that a customer will no longer need to provide their personal details to the vendor. Rather, they will simply supply their identity number. This proposed digital ID system will ensure that sensitive details, including  date of birth or license details, are not stored across different businesses. Instead, the details are stored centrally. Access and security are closely monitored.

Governments must also substantially improve regulation and legislation to better hold online platforms to account for users and the wider community. As the ABC recently reported Tiktok is enabling users to earn money from livestreaming. Better monitoring by online platforms and apps to ensure that frauds and scams are addressed quickly. There is a substantial risk that these payment systems can be used for illegal purposes, including child sex exploitation, romance scams and money laundering.

Under the current legislation,  banks are required to actively monitor transactions and report suspicious behaviour including financial flows suspected of being associated with child sex exploitation to AUSTRAC. Yet online platforms such as Tik Tok and Instragram are currently not required to do so.

“The idea is that a customer will no longer need to provide their personal details to the vendor. Rather, they will simply supply their identity number.”
Digital identity scanner

Educating the vulnerable

Our educational institutions are fertile grounds for delivering skills, insights and enlightenment. High schools and Universities must wield their knowledge to guide their students away from scams and hoaxes. Financial literacy, often overlooked, should be included in the high school curriculum, a formidable protection against scams.

Universities, especially, have a really important role to play. University students looking for part-time work can unintentionally be recruited into ‘money muling’ for organised crime. The cost-of-living has increased the vulnerability of University students who are at risk of becoming victims of scams as they struggle to afford food and rising rents. Australian law enforcement agencies have come together to deliver a campaign to raise awareness of the growing trend involving criminals recruiting financially vulnerable students. Police are concerned that criminals are targeting students, including through lucrative job adverts offering quick and easy money, in exchange for moving funds through their bank accounts.

The Academy of Financial Crime Investigation and Compliance within the Griffith Business School has launched a scam awareness module and is free for all Griffith University students.

The web of shame

High schools have a role to play addressing sexploitation. Sexstortion is a form of online blackmail where someone tricks you into sending your sexual images then threatens to share them unless their demands are met. Imagine an email, its subject line claims to have an intimate photo, stolen from your webcam. The sender demands payment, threatening exposure. Victims grapple with shame, fear, and a gnawing dread. But here’s the twist: the photo doesn’t exist. It’s a phantom, conjured by cunning scammers. Their weapon? Psychological manipulation. They prey on deep vulnerabilities, exploiting our desire for privacy. The AFP-led Australian Centre to Counter Child Exploitation (ACCCE) has been highlighting the warning signs of ‘sextortion’ to help parents and carers protect young people from online threats.

It is increasingly important that high schools take proactive steps to grow awareness of such scams. This could be done by including modules on financial literarcy and financial scams on the school curriculum. The South Australian government leading by example in this area.

Government agencies, educational institutions, and cybersecurity experts must work together to both fortify our defences and raise awareness of the ever evolving tactics of cybercriminals. By fostering a culture of resilience, Australia can better cultivate a safer digital ecosystem.


Professor Andreas Chai is the Director of the Academy of Financial Crime Investigation and Compliance and an applied microeconomist specialised in the area of household behaviour with application to measuring poverty, energy poverty, financial hardship and climate change adaptation. He has completed projects for APEC, the United Nations, NCCARF, IP Australia and the Queensland government. He has previously worked at the Commonwealth Treasury (Canberra) and the Productivity Commission (Melbourne).

16: Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions
UN Sustainable Development Goals 16: Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions