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$250k fines to stamp out ‘annoying’ scams

Jessica Yun
·3-min read
(Source: Getty, AAP)
Photo of an unknown caller on iPhone; Federal Communications Minister Paul Fletcher. (Source: Getty, AAP)

Australians have lost more than $132 million in scams this year, with nearly $36 million lost to phone scams alone, and now telcos will be held accountable for failing to address the sharp increase in malicious callers.

The Government has launched a new industry code which will require telecommunication giants to detect, trace and block scam calls.

A task force, called the Scam Telecommunications Action Taskforce and made up of representatives from the telco industry, has also been put together to tackle the scams.

Announcing the Reducing Scam Calls Code, Communications Minister Paul Fletcher said he – like millions of Australians – has also received scam calls.

"Just about everyone has experienced them, I certainly have," he told ABC. "At best they're annoying, at worst they involve substantial fraud."

Over the last two years, Yahoo Finance has kept track of many of the malicious calls, texts and emails, many of which spoof major banks CBA, ANZ, NAB and Westpac, as well as others that purport to be from Netflix, Paypal and even myGov.

3 particular scams marked as high priority

The task force is particular concerned about these three scams:

1. ATO scams

Technology has become so sophisticated that scammers can often make a false ‘caller ID’ come up on your phone, called ‘overstamping’ or ‘spoofing’. Many scam calls are pretending to be from the ATO, and the phone number that shows up is a legitimate one used by the tax office.

Between October 2018 and October 2018, the ATO received more than 160,000 reports of such calls – more than 10,000 a month on average.

2. Wangiri scam calls

‘Wangiri’ is the Japanese word for ‘one ring and drop’, and it basically works by baiting victims to call back after ringing just once. When victims call back, it’s an international number – and the call is charged at sky-high rates.

3. International scam calls

Most scam calls come from overseas – so any scam call that comes from another country would fall into this category.

What will the new industry code do?

The new code will require telcos to monitor, trace, block and work with international carriers to prevent these scams.

Telcos will also have to publish information to help customers proactively manage and report scam calls, share information about scam calls with other telcos, and report them to the authorities.

Telcos that don’t comply with the code face penalties of up to $250,000.

Scam Telecommunications Action Taskforce chair Fiona Cameron said the code would be a “holistic” framework to effectively reduce scam activity.

“There is no silver bullet to reduce scams, but these new rules place clear obligations on industry to do more to protect their customers and build confidence that it’s safe to answer a ringing phone,” she said in a statement.

Scammers adapt quickly, and have been quick to exploit the Covid-19 pandemic to target Australians, she added.

“Industry’s initial efforts to block scams are an encouraging step towards the substantial and sustained work required before consumers will see a real reduction in scam calls.

“The end game is to stop scammers in their tracks wherever possible and the ACMA will enforce this code to make sure telcos are meeting their obligations to their customers.”

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