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7 in 10 Australians fearful of online risks - report

As technology continues to advance, so too does the prevalence of scams that pose a significant threat to Australians. New statistics highlight the extent of this issue, with nearly half (47%) reporting that they have been targeted by online, email, or phone scams. Additionally, a further 49% revealed that a friend, family member, or colleague had been targeted by such scams. 

Commissioned by Real Insurance, in partnership with consumer research group CoreData, The Real Insurance Digital Risk Report 2023 surveyed more than 5,000 Australians, exploring the sentiments surrounding online safety in Australia.

The report also examines the anxieties of parents regarding their family's well-being in the digital era, the financial impact of scams, government and political concerns, and the future of AI in Australia. 

The research found that nearly 7 in 10 (69%) Australians aged 18 and older hold a high level of fear concerning online risks. With less than half (46%) feeling very or extremely confident in their understanding of the risks associated with online activities. 

The cost of scams 

In today's day and age, Australians remain susceptible to various scams, each of which depending on the intent of the scam having a different impact. The study found that phishing and smishing scams have been the most common, impacting half (50%) of respondents or people they know. Followed closely by online shopping scams (38%), and technical support scams (32%). 

Whilst not all scams are financial in nature, Australians that have fallen victim to a financial scam lost an average of $4,307. While many hope to recover their funds, the study found that almost half (45%) were unable to which could have taken a significant toll on their savings.  

Beyond the financial impacts of scams, they can also have detrimental effects on the wellbeing of their victims. The research shows over half (51%) of those who have been targeted by scams experienced negative wellbeing or mental impacts to some degree, with close to 1 in 5 (17%) labelling the impact as considerable. 

Regrettably, the vulnerability of individuals to scams exhibits a concerning trend, particularly among the older population, with over half (54%) of Australians over the age of 60 claiming to be scam targets, compared to 40% of those under 30. 

Cyber safety expert, Susan McLean comments, "The impact of scams on the community cannot be overstated. In addition to suffering significant monetary losses, those who fall victim to scams are often humiliated and embarrassed which provides a barrier to help seeking actions."

"Poorer mental health outcomes are regularly reported by victims of scams which in turn can negatively impact a person's ongoing qualify of life."

Family online safety  

As social media platforms and apps continue to target large groups of teenagers and children, the research found that the majority (85%) of Australians families allow their kids, aged 18 and younger, to access the internet at home. Yet almost all (98%) parents expressed some form of concern about their child being exposed to potentially harmful content online.  

Despite the wealth of benefits the internet provides, children are at risk of being exposed to content beyond their years. 1 in 3 of respondents with children 18 years old & below (34%) reported that their kids have been exposed to inappropriate content, and a further 1 in 4 (26%) parents reported that their kids have been exposed to abusive behaviour online.  
Beyond the inappropriate content concerns, children can also inadvertently expose themselves and their parents to financial loss. Close to a quarter of parents (24%) have reported that their kids have made an unauthorised online purchase, and a further 1 in 5 (21%) said their kids have been the target of online scams.  

Amidst the numerous avenues for social connectivity offered by platforms like social media, parents revealed that 1 in 4 (25%) kids have friends or acquaintances online that they do not know in real life, and close to 1 in 5 (17%) have met someone in real life whom they initially knew only through online interactions.

Susan McLean states, "Sadly, many parents do not have an in-depth understanding of the reality of the online world and base their opinions on their own experiences which will not mirror that of their children. Whilst the results show that parents have a degree of concern, they do not always adequately educate themselves so that they are able to effectively parent in the digital space."

Parents most common concerns include cyberbullying and harassment (68%), online predators and cyberstalking (61%), exposure to porn or sexually inappropriate content (59%), inappropriate messages or interactions (55%) and sharing of personal information or images they will regret (55%).

AI and political implications 

Generative AI has dominated the course of 2023 as businesses, governments and individuals battle to understand and stay ahead of the latest technology craze. Close to 7 in 10 (69%) Australians who are currently using, have tried or are planning to try generative AI tools have expressed concerns regarding the handling of information they share with these AI platforms or tools, specifically in terms of confidential work and personal information. 

Beyond AI, apps such as TikTok have taken over the social media space, with millions of active users in Australia alone. Despite the widespread popularity, 82% believe that apps like TikTok may represent data security risks to Australians. 

As these conversations advance in the political realm, the survey found that an overwhelming majority (97%) believe there should be tougher penalties for cyber criminals. As individuals and companies suffer from the impacts of cyber crime, over 4 in 5 (89%) believe the government should ban foreign companies if they pose potential security risks. 

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