When someone contacts me saying they have been scammed and what should they do one of my first suggestions to them is to report the scam to ACORN (Australian Cybercrime Online Reporting Network). I am an Ambassador for them, so that’s logical, right? But what does ACORN do?
I was recently contacted by someone in this situation, and her story, is, according to the research by Cassandra Cross mentioned in my last post, not that unusual. She communicated with me over a number of days, complaining that no-one in the various police forces would take her call, and that she was continually referred on to someone else, who then referred her on again. This included state police, federal police, and even Interpol, who could work on her behalf, but only if contacted by the relevant local agency (police). But they weren’t interested in even taking her details.
She was totally frustrated that no-one seemed to care about her situation, and fewer indicated that they could actually do something. She had done her own research and had good information on her scammer that could lead to their identification and apprehension, if action was taken quickly. But no-one was interested.
In Australia, the agencies that deal with scammers include:
- ScamWatch: take the details of your scam for statistical purposes, supposedly to analyse trends so they can disrupt scams and promote awareness of scams. Though they do provide a phone number to contact them, they dissuade you from expecting to get any response from them. “If you make a report online, a record will be kept and you may be contacted by the ACCC if any further information is required. The ACCC is unable to reply to all reports made online due to the high volume received.” There is no indication that their role includes any follow up on the scam.
- ACORN (Australian Cybercrime Online Reporting Network): “..is a national
policing initiative of the Commonwealth, State and Territory governments. It is a national online system that allows the public to securely report instances of cybercrime. It will also provide advice to help people recognise and avoid common types of cybercrime.” So the emphasis here is again reporting and prevention. They do say that reporting “will help develop a better picture of the cybercrime affecting Australians, and may also help resolve your matter“, but this is all they say about any form of follow up. Its not even very clear that cybercrime includes romance scams, as this is only listed when one looks at Online Scams or Fraud, and is included alongside
- Unexpected prize scams,
- Unexpected money scams,
- Dating or romance scams,
- Threats and extortion scams,
- Jobs and investment scams, and
- Identity theft.
We must remember that these agencies are dealing with all sorts of scams, online fraud, and cybercrime, not just romance scams and with the combination of victim blaming culture spoken about in my last blog, and the difficulty of dealing with overseas criminals, we can see why romance scams may fall into the ‘too hard basket’ for any concerted action to catch scammers. But with millions of dollars lost to Australians every year, is this good enough?
- Local Agencies dealing with consumer affairs: Both ScamWatch and ACORN make referrals to the list of other departments as follows:
- Australian Capital Territory Office of Regulatory Services
- Consumer Affairs Victoria
- New South Wales Fair Trading
- Northern Territory Consumer Affairs
- Queensland Office of Fair Trading
- South Australia Office of Consumer and Business Affairs
- Tasmania Consumer Affairs and Fair Trading
- Western Australia Department of Commerce—Consumer Protection
I suspect that these agencies are also focused on prevention of scams through warning, as they are unlikely to have police investigative powers.
- Other Scams: Other types of scams can be reported to specialised agencies such as
- The Australian Securities and Investments Commission for financial and investment scams
- The Australian Taxation Office for tax-related schemes/scams including if you have provided a scammer with your Tax File Number
- Your bank or financial institution for banking and credit card scams – contact them immediately
- The Australian Communications and Media Authority for spam emails
- Local Police and Fraud Squads: Scamwatch says if you have been subject to Fraud or Theft, you should contact your local police. Whilst my experience with the Victorian Police in 2012 was at least civil, and they took my report, I have heard many others caught by romance scammers across Australia saying they have been laughed at, and turned away. This is victim blaming in its truest form, with not even a recognition or acknowledgement that a fraud has taken place, because of victim involvement in sending money. Again this is confirmed by the research by Cassandra Cross.
When reports are made to ACORN or ScamWatch, this is done online. It is not even possible to do it to a real person, and be treated like a person who has been defrauded in return. Emails that acknowledge that a report is made are the automated type, nothing personal, and may not even include an agency person’s name. All of this is very depersonalising and extremely disrespectful. Yet if a similar or even lesser crime or fraud occurred in Australia, by an Australian, the police would be all over it.
And after the report, nothing. No further contact. No indication of any investigation taking place. Can we assume that any investigation is done? And yet millions of dollars are lost from Australia every year and this known cost is magnified by the emotional cost, the well-being cost, and the future financial cost to victims (which is often much more than the one off cost of money lost).
Some of our policing organisations abuse us the victims in their attitude and behaviour towards us. This is no longer acceptable! More transparency is needed about who (and I do mean a person) to report to, and what is being done with the information provided. Full transparency!
I have sent an enquiry to the ACCC asking for information for those who report scams to ACORN or ScamWatch:
- How many people [who report being scammed] are contacted directly by law enforcement agencies?
- How many cases (or percentages) are investigated?
- What criteria are used for what is investigated?
- How many cases are reported to Interpol?
- Do we get any feedback from Interpol about what happens next?
- Is information provided back to victims?
- If not why not?
I wonder what I will get back…?
Its time we demanded more action by our various police forces to track and apprehend scammers, even those located overseas. Surely investigation into cybercrime includes those who are a victim of a romance scams. If not why not!