The number of online scams reported to the police more than doubled over the past year, highlighting the ever-growing threat posed by online fraudsters.

Speaking in parliament earlier this week, Home Affairs Minister Byron Camilleri revealed that there were 2,517 cases of online fraud reported to the police throughout 2023, far more than the 1,088 reported in 2022.

Camilleri was replying to a parliamentary question submitted by PN MP Darren Carabott.

This means that people in Malta lost some €12.5m to scams and online fraud in 2023, almost 50% higher than the €8.5m they lost in 2022, according to figures provided by the police.

The true figure is likely to be even higher, with international research suggesting that around a third of all scams go unreported.

Online scams have proliferated in recent years, rising from just a handful each year a decade ago, to over 2,500 today, as technology developed throughout the years.

A police spokesperson told Times of Malta that many of the more successful scams tend to be bank message scams, where scammers use what initially appears to be a genuine message from a trusted bank to gain access to people’s savings.

The success of these scams “can be attributed to scammers exploiting the trust victims have in financial institutions”, the spokesperson warned.

Scammers are becoming increasingly adept at spoofing banks’ communication channels, frequently sending customers fake messages from what appears to be a bank’s real telephone number.

Unsuspecting customers, believing the message to be genuine, are then duped into handing over their personal details or money, sometimes to the tune of thousands of euros.

Police say that scammers often use “urgency tactics”, such as claiming that a person has to perform a certain action within a specific time period or risk losing access to their accounts.

According to the police, scammers often target people “who rely heavily on digital banking”, further increasing their chance of success.

The “vast majority” of these scams tend to originate from overseas, according to the police. This often makes it more difficult for authorities to trace transactions and recover stolen money.

New guidelines published by the Financial Arbiter late last year say that banks can be held liable in cases in which their customers are scammed, if they fail to adequately warn customers about scams imitating their communication channels.

In one such case last year, BOV were instructed to pay 40% of one client’s losses, after the client clicked on a link in a fraudulent SMS they believed to be sent by the bank, eventually losing over €4,000 to the scam.

The move is likely to see banks step up their communication in an effort to warn their clients of scams that are doing the rounds.

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