Academic journal article Trends & Issues in Crime and Criminal Justice

Raising Public Awareness of Consumer Fraud in Australia

Academic journal article Trends & Issues in Crime and Criminal Justice

Raising Public Awareness of Consumer Fraud in Australia

Article excerpt

As part of a global effort to fight mass-marketed consumer scams, each year consumer protection agencies in 33 western countries participate in a month of fraud prevention activities to raise awareness of the problem and to provide advice to consumers on how to avoid being victimised. In Australia and New Zealand, 19 government agencies comprise the Australasian Consumer Fraud Taskforce (ACFT), which conducted a campaign in March 2007 with the theme 'Scams target you - protect yourself'. This paper describes the activities undertaken by the ACFT and assesses the impact that the publicity had on official reporting of scams by consumers. The results of an online survey of 841 self-selected respondents are also presented. It is concluded that the campaign was highly effective in raising consumer awareness, with reporting rates increasing substantially throughout the period of the campaign.

Toni Makkai

Director

Between 5 and 31 March 2007, members of the Australasian Consumer Fraud Taskforce (ACFT) participated in the month of fraud prevention awareness-raising activities undertaken annually by members of the International Consumer Protection and Enforcement Network. Each year members of the network select a theme to achieve the greatest impact on consumers living in their respective countries. For the 2007 campaign in Australia and New Zealand, the ACFT developed the theme 'Scams target you - protect yourself, with four targeted risk areas examined in each of the four weeks of the campaign: protect your money, protect your phone, protect your computer and protect your identity. These were considered the most likely avenues to defraud consumers. During each week of the campaign, members were asked to focus on one or more fraud prevention initiatives relevant to each risk area, with the following key pieces of advice to be delivered:

1 Protect your money

* Never respond to an email asking for your PIN or password

* Never send money to someone you don't know or trust

* Only invest with licensed financial services providers

2 Protect your phone

* Be suspicious of unexpected calls and text messages

* Hang up. Or text 'STOP' to unwanted messages

* Don't give out your number to just anyone

3 Protect your computer

* Keep your protection software up to date

* Don't respond in anyway to unsolicited emails

* If in doubt, delete

4 Protect your identity

* Never give out your personal information to someone you don't know or trust

* Don't just bin it - destroy it (old bills) records or expired cards)

* Check your credit report at least once a year

During the campaign, a wide range of media was used to inform consumers. This included the dissemination of 2,600 printed posters and 282,000 single-page flyers posted by member agencies; the distribution of 1 00,000 identity fraud prevention kits prepared by the Attorney-General's Department; print and electronic media releases often involving government ministers or heads of member agencies; 75 radio and five television appearances by ACFT members; 82 print media references to the ACFT recorded in the Factiva database of major Australian newspapers; specially designed internet pages for ACFT members and partners; newspaper advertisements and magazine articles; and an online survey hosted by the AIC which could be completed by members of the public or agency call centre staff on behalf of consumers who had contacted them for information or to make complaints.

ACFT members that assisted with the dissemination of campaign messages included 21 private-sector organisations, including four major Australian banks, and 12 non-government organisations. These members adopted a range of initiatives that included placing the message 'Avoid scams. Visit www. scamwatch.gov.au' on ATM screens and customer receipts, as well as placing messages on staff intranets. …

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