Online Scamming And The Role Of Print Media

Some newspaper, stacked on bokeh background
B&T Magazine
Edited by B&T Magazine

In this opinion piece, Sam Upton, founder and editorial director of Soul Content UK, reflects on how print advertising can help counteract mistrust in digital.

Digital scams are currently costing Australian businesses over $18 million per year, and rising. So how can you and your customers retain trust in media and what can print do to help?

Before we begin, take a quick look at your Spam folder. If you haven’t cleared it out this morning, it’s highly likely there will be at least two scam emails. And if you’re a company director or work in the finance department, we’d be staggered if there isn’t ten times that amount.

While the pandemic has shifted a number of positive digital trends and technologies from occasional use to commonplace, it’s also boosted some of the negative. A recent report by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has found that Australians have lost over $851 million to scams in 2020. Based on data from Scamwatch, other government agencies, and banks and financial intermediaries, that figure breaks down as $328 million lost through investment scams, $131 million from romance scams, and $128 million through payment redirection scams.

For the majority of companies and businesses, it’s that final figure that raises the most alarm. Of that $128 million, Australian businesses lost $18 million to scams in 2020, which represents a 260 per cent increase on losses reported in 2019.

“Last year, scam victims reported the biggest losses we have seen, but worse, we expect the real losses will be even higher, as many people don’t report these scams,” said ACCC Deputy Chair Delia Rickard.

“Unfortunately, scammers continue to become more sophisticated and last year used the COVID-19 pandemic to scam and take advantage of people from all walks of life during this crisis.”

A perfect storm for scams

It’s no secret that scammers prey on the vulnerable and thrive during a crisis, and the Covid pandemic has created the ideal conditions for them to flourish. For businesses, the chaos of lockdowns, staff shortages, supply chain problems, and continual changes in legislation and guidelines has given the green light to digital-savvy criminals intent on syphoning off cash from company accounts.

According to Scamwatch data, false billing was the most common con, accounting for over 75 per cent of total business loss. Bearing the brunt of these scams were small and micro businesses, making up 60 per cent of the companies involved, with payment redirection top of the list for false billing scamming methods.

Also known as business email compromise (BEC), payment redirection scams involve the impersonation of a business or its employees in an email that requests an upcoming payment be redirected to a fraudulent account. These resulted in $14 million in losses – up from $5 million the previous year. Other types of scam to look out for include health and medical products, investment, online shopping and classified.

Trust in the traditional

For those unfortunate companies that have fallen prey to a sophisticated scam, it’s disastrous, not only for the bottom line but for business confidence. For those businesses – and let’s not forget consumers – that have escaped being scammed, either through diligent digital practices or blind luck, it deepens their lack of trust in the online world.

As far as trust goes, digital media hasn’t had a great year. The latest Edelman Trust Barometer has shown a sharp drop in trust for online news sources, with social (35 per cent) and owned (41 per cent) the least trusted forms of media. Conversely, traditional media is among the most trusted, with 53 per cent trusting it for general news and information.

Looking at Australia in particular, the Barometer reveals that trust across all Australian institutions has actually reached an all-time high, resulting in significant gains for business (+11 points), government (+17 points), NGOs (+8 points) and media (+12 points). In fact, the only sector that hasn’t increased is technology, which fell by five points to 61 per cent. Meanwhile, social media barely registered on the Barometer with the lowest sector score of 40 per cent.

People trust print

What this means is that print has a golden opportunity to capitalise on consumers’ lack of trust in online technology. People understand that print doesn’t ask them for personal information, doesn’t track their reading history, and won’t bombard them with targeted messaging days after putting the newspaper down. In addition, as print falls under much tighter legislation than online, the information is much more likely to be true.

In certain areas of the industry, print stands head and shoulders above all other media. A recent survey by a group of Australian universities and trade organisations found that newspaper readers in rural and regional Australia are five times more likely to go directly to their local newspaper than Google or Facebook for local information. Country Press Australia also found that the majority of respondents (71 per cent) prefer to read their local paper in print than online, with 86 per cent regarding a printed copy of their newspaper as an essential service for their community.

“The evidence is clear, news brands deliver incredibly strong business effects for brands,” stated marketing expert Peter Field in the highly influential 2021 IPA Databank study. “They are able to do this because of their strong impacts on brand trust and quality perceptions – two brand effects that are now most strongly linked to profit growth.”

The privacy of print

Whether you’re advertising or publishing, the authenticity and credibility that print offers a brand can boost the ROI of any campaign, as well as offer a reassuring sense of privacy and security for businesses and consumers. As technology develops and the media adapts to a changing world, that privacy and security will become more and more important, and people more and more wary of online information and advertising.

Eventually there will be tighter rules for the digital world and tighter sentences for the scammers that blight it. But it’s a vast beast that will take a long time to tame. Until then, print is your best bet for earning your customers’ trust and boosting your bottom line.

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