Forensics experts release Australian Scam Culture Report

Traffic and trading on the dark Web continues to rise, with approximately 2.7 million daily users in 2023, up from 2.5 million in 2022, according to BDO’s inaugural Australian Scam Culture Report  

“Surprisingly, illegal trading or associated activity by criminals only makes up half of dark Web activity. Of that, 67 per cent is forums, chat rooms and data hosts, followed by narcotics trading (8 per cent), the sale of firearms (6 per cent) and financing services (6 per cent). The remaining 19 per cent includes such things as stolen data, services for hire, malicious software and content from extremist groups,” said Michael Cassidy, BDO’s National Leader of Forensics.   

The new report from BDO – which will be released quarterly into the future - shows that over the June quarter the top traded items on the dark Web were fraud and counterfeit products (such as passports, credit ratings and credit cards, and Facebook accounts) and corporate data (such as user IDs, passwords and intellectual property).   

“Many people are surprised to learn that about half of the activity on the dark Web is entirely legal. In addition to some traditional business entity presence, there are also other groups such as anti-vaccination, anti-government, conspiracy theorists and information disseminators looking for a place that is not easily accessible or searchable by traditional means,” Michael said.   

Costs continue to fluctuate on the dark Web with the June quarter showing COVID-19 vaccination certificates trading for $A119, false passports trading for $A2,255 and Australian drivers’ licences for $A526. The cost of hacked cryptocurrency accounts has varied significantly, with an average drop of 72 per cent in the last 12 months. Cloned SIM cards fell by 33 per cent in the last quarter down to $A399 from $A599.    

The data for 2023 to date shows an increase in hacked social media accounts for sale, up by 32 per cent from 2021, with Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram and Telegram accounts all trading for around $A119 each. The dark Web currently has over 10,000 ChatGPT accounts available for sale. 

“Anyone can sign up for a free ChatGPT account, but people are looking for paid ChatGPT accounts on the dark Web to get enhanced accuracy and response time, plus priority access during peak times. Faster response times and enhanced accuracy make for a more authentic and conversational experience, which is the type of content people want the AI to generate. We expect these accounts to become more valuable as usage continues to increase,” Michael said. 

Michael commented that interestingly there is increased negotiation activity on the dark Web, with traders and buyers communicating to negotiate their own terms.   

“Like any marketplace, trust is crucial to make a transaction. But this is heightened on the dark Web, because if an illegal transaction doesn’t go to plan, there is no recourse. To address this, we are seeing market operators mediating with buyers and sellers to negotiate a solution” Michael said.   

From a consumer point of view, despite common belief that identity theft and romance scams are the most popular of the moment, these two make up only nine per cent of scam activity in 2022, with investment scams making up for 70 per cent of scams last year.     

In 2023, text message has overtaken phone call as the leading delivery method scammers are using.       

“Up until 2021, a phone call was the most common way that scammers were reaching people, but in 2023 the text message has overtaken the phone call and is now the mode of choice. One of the reasons scammers have changed tact is due to society’s reluctance to answer phone calls from unknown numbers and the increased use of screening apps that assist people to identify scam calls,” Michael said.  

“Text messages are working for scammers because people have their phone on them all the time, and we’re accustomed to taking a quick glance and actioning something without really thinking,” he said.    

“Of course, scammers these days are skilled at posing as trusted brands, organisations and human contacts – known as spoofing – which makes it harder to detect a scam over a legitimate communication.”  

 “This really is a golden era for scammers – people are using their phones to do their day-to-day admin, business systems are connected to people’s personal devices, and AI is ramping up and giving scammers an opportunity to automate and tailor their approach, meaning they will reach more people with more ease,” Michael said.

“One thing people may need to be aware of in the future is scammers using AI generated voice activity to bolster their attacks. This might involve using a sample of someone’s voice to make seemingly human conversation with their targets. In essence, it could be an extension of the Hi Mom scam, where a fake child asks their mum for money to help them get out of trouble, but instead of a text, it’ll be a call that sounds just like their son or daughter. Of course, these tactics could be used to scam businesses as well.”

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