Financial crimes increasing even more under COVID-19 as some burglars switch to fraud
Like many fraud victims, Adelaide woman Lucy only discovered she’d had her identity stolen a month after it actually happened.
A criminal had gone online and changed her driver’s licence address to her own so she could sign up for mobile phones, short-term credit and loans.
Lucy found out when she went to sell her family’s caravan in August.
She had reported her driver’s licence and her purse stolen in a break-in in July.
“Had we not noticed, they would have got away with $60,000 to $80,000,” her husband Matt said.
Matt and Lucy are not alone.
Big increase in financial crimes
The number of financial crimes like fraud, deception, blackmail and extortion reported to SA Police has increased by 29 per cent over the past year, and 55 per cent over the past five years according to new crime data.
Meanwhile, home break-ins were down 22 per cent in 2020-21 compared with 2019-20, with more people working from home, unemployed or not going on holiday.
Detective Superintendent Adam Rice from SA Police’s Financial and Cybercrime Investigation Branch said some burglars had switched from in-person crime to online theft during the coronavirus pandemic.
“I think definitely a person who would typically break into your home now just has to target perhaps your letterbox,” he said.
“We do encourage people to padlock their letterboxes and make sure if they are expecting driver’s licences and credit cards to be coming in the post, that they’re pretty diligent about collecting the mail quickly from their letterbox…
“We are seeing a similar group of people who may be committing that type of crime.”
Overseas scams by phone and email
“We do see a lot of what we call business email compromise-type scams, where businesses who have been dealing with companies for many years all of a sudden have emails suggesting to change bank details for payment of bills etc,” Superintendent Rice said.
“By the time some of these businesses realise they’ve been actually had some of their email compromised, they’ve paid a lot of money out to some of these people and they’ve lost a lot of money — typically a lot of it goes offshore.”
With this type of crime, it is best to notify police within three days to help track the transaction, but many people did not realise they had been scammed or had money stolen until much later.
He urged people to come forward, even if they felt embarrassed.
“People need to understand that these groups are incredibly sophisticated and they’re incredibly slick at what they do and very convincing at what they do and good people get scammed all the time,” he said.
“Generally, that is because people are very compliant people and they want to do the right thing and when these people ring up and purport to be law enforcement or government agencies people want to do the right thing and comply with that they’re being told.
“We do certainly need to let people know that there’s no judgment attached to it — people get scammed and we’re here to help them — but only if we know about it.”
Driver’s licence loophole fixed
In Lucy’s case, the thief had used the South Australian government’s EzyReg website to change her address.
All it required was the person to use a link on the website to change the address.
No text message or email was sent to Lucy to confirm the change.
After an interview with ABC Radio Adelaide last week, the link was deleted.
“It appears from that point of view that that loophole has now closed,” Matt said.
Lucy found out on Monday that her application for a new driver’s licence number bad been approved, after the ABC contacted the Department for Infrastructure and Transport (DPTI) about the issue.
A spokesman for the department said EzyReg website users could connect their account with their mySA GOV profile for more security.
Superintendent Rice said government departments worked well with police to solve similar issues.
“We’ve certainly been dealing with them in recent times, shoring up practices,” he said.
“We have constant liaison across government and, generally speaking, it’s quite good.”