Telcos are fighting back against phone scams costing Australians $500 million a year

Phone call from unknown number late at night. Scam, fraud or phishing with smartphone concept. Prank caller, scammer or stranger. Man answering to incoming call. Hoax person with fake identity.Photo: AdobeStock

The growing problem of phone scams is expected to cost Australians more $500 million this year, to the government and regulators are moving to block popular ones and push telcos to ramp up efforts to combat them.

The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) has been reviewing the problem for 18 months and this week announced it has launched the first of three trials into stopping them. In 2018, scammers cost Australians $489 million and that figure is expected to top half a billion dollars in 2019.

ACMA released its Combatting Scams report on Wednesday. It recommends new enforceable obligations on telcos and an immediate start to trials for a number of scam reduction initiatives.

The problems the trials will tackle include as malicious ‘spoofing’, where scammers disguise their number to make it look like calls are coming from a trusted organisation, and ‘Wangiri’ scams, where scammers ring once from an international number with high premium charges for those who call back.

Others involve the scammer pretending to be from the government or a major corporation, including the Australian Taxation Office and NBN.

Leading telcos have been working with ACMA to roll out prevention measures. In one instance, a telco provider blocked nearly 3 million scam calls in one month.

Scam Project chair Fiona Cameron, said work on the first trial had already begun.

“We will be trialling a Do Not Originate list, which compiles a list of safe numbers from organisations like banks and the tax office and prevents them being used for scams,” she said.

“Further trials will target the Wangiri ‘one ring and drop’ Scam, which has been identified as one the industry can potentially bust by working together.”

Ms Carmeron said there was no “silver bullet” because scammers “are agile and relentless” but the industry’s action plan will help the sector remain vigilant.

“It’s about time we felt comfortable answering the phone again,” she said.

The plan also recommends establishing a Scam Telecommunications Action Taskforce to provide ongoing focus on scam minimisation strategies across government and industry.

The ACMA partnered with the ACCC and Australian Cyber Security Centre on the Scam Technology Project.

Communications and Cyber Safety minister Paul Fletcher said the Government would begin the other proposed trials with telcos against in early 2020.

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