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Australians take the bait as online phishing scams increase

More Australians are getting scammed and they're losing almost $90 million a year to swindlers, with the number of people hit by phishing and identity theft cons almost doubling in a single year.

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James Martin/CNET

Australians lost more than $89 million to scams last year, with the number of people falling victim to phishing scams almost doubling in one year alone.

The findings come following the release of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission's Targeting Scams Report 2013, which reveals that more than 91,000 Australians reported scams in 2013, with 14 per cent of these victims accounting for financial losses of over AU$89 million.

Australians are also increasingly being targeted electronically -- while just over half of targets were conned over the phone (via phone call or text), 40 per cent were hit with internet and email scams.

While the number of people swindled through online shopping and computer hacking has stayed steady, phishing and identity theft rose by 73 per cent in a single year, hitting more than 15,000 Australians in 2013.

According to the ACCC, fake 'free offers' and scam surveys were a big culprit in the phishing stakes -- with company logos and financial incentives proving to be a sweetener that some scam victims couldn't resist -- while realistic-looking emails purporting to be from banks are still managing to net Australians.

"Phishing scams often create a sense of urgency to get you to click through and provide personal information without thinking," said ACCC deputy chair Delia Rickard. "Don't let scammers press your buttons.

"People should be particularly vigilant in asking themselves who they are really dealing with when they meet the person online. Scammers take advantage of the internet to establish relationships behind a smoke screen, where they remain anonymous while connecting with people around the globe with the click of a button."

The biggest swindles in 2013 were relationship scams, which Rickard said not only caused economic but also emotional harm.

"These scammers invest considerable time and effort deceiving you into a fake romance, a fraudulent business partnership or a complex investment scheme," said Rickard. "Their ultimate aim is to build your trust so they can steal your personal details and money."