Fraud involving Australian credit cards, debit cards and cheques reached $285 million in June this year, down from a peak of $302 million in December.

Credit cards still dominate the statistics, accounting for $263 million, or 97 per cent, of all fraud in the 2011-12 financial year. Debit cards accounted for 3 per cent and cheques just 0.05 per cent. 

This credit card figure includes an estimated $30 million taken over two years by a Romania-based crime ring that was only recently exposed. That syndicate had access to 500,000 Australian credit cards and about 30,000 credit cards were exploited, the Australian Federal Police said when the ring was smashed last month. 

About 15.6¢ out of every $1000 transaction during the year was fraudulent, just a fraction of the $1.8 trillion spent through cards and cheques in total, according to the Australian Payments Clearing Association [APCA]. 

Transactions that do not require the customers’ presence, such as online, telephone and mail shopping, are the most susceptible and the increasing rate of online shopping is likely to push fraud statistics higher in coming years.  

‘‘As people take to online shopping enthusiastically...that is a more challenging fraud environment because you do not know who you are dealing with and you do not know who is watching. That is an ongoing challenge for the entire industry,’’ chief executive of the APCA, Chris Hamilton, said. 

However, the average amount stolen during a fraudulent credit card transaction has dropped from $365 to $225 because criminals are ‘‘testing’’ their methods and trying to hide among normal transactions, he added. 

About $14 million was stolen using debit cards that require a personal identification number [PIN]. This is down from a peak of $27.9 million in 2009-10 when Australia was targeted by international criminal groups skimming ATMs and eftpos machines. Since the group was busted machines have been updated and more Australian cards fitted with micro-chips that are harder to copy than magnetic strips.  But criminals have found new techniques with debit card fraud rising to $7.7 million between December 2011 and June 2012, compared to $5.2 million in the previous six months.  

‘‘We understand there has been an increase in skimming activity at ATMs, in petrol stations and in taxis. Consumers can help stay safe by keeping their card in sight when making payments and always covering their hand when entering their PIN at point-of-sale terminals and ATMs,’’ Mr Hamilton said. 

Banks and credit unions usually reimburse card holders, providing the customer is not at fault. 

Cheque fraud declined to $7.9 million in 2011-12 from a peak of $18 million in 2010 as fewer people use cheque books. However, it is more damaging with fraud reaching an average value of $11,000.

‘‘The guys who used to be experts at cheque fraud are finding it harder and harder to do that, they are gradually going out of business. So I suspect what you are seeing are the last few people who are trying to engage in cheque fraud going after larger and larger values,’’ Mr Hamilton said.