Australian Competition and Consumer Commission chair Gina Cass-Gottlieb highlighted the importance of collaboration in the fight against scams and outlined the regulator’s three-pronged approach to make Australia the world’s hardest target for scammers.
In a speech to Law Council of Australia’s 2022 Consumer Law Forum in Sydney on Tuesday, Ms Cass-Gottlieb said the three areas of focus for the regulator are stopping scammers from reaching consumers, educating consumers to stop scams and avoid becoming victims, and stopping funds from reaching scammers.
Ms Cass-Gottlieb also revealed that the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) and the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) are currently trialing an automated website takedown trial.
The regulators are working with United Kingdom-based Netcraft to remove scam websites reported to the ACCC’s Scamwatch and to ASIC. According to the ACCC chair, in the last three weeks dozens of malicious websites targeting Australians have been taken down with dozens more pending. The United Kingdom government’s National Cyber Security Centre over the last four years.
Ms Cass-Gottlieb said she believes that victims of phishing scams are not to blame for their own losses and that organisations are expected to be monitoring their own platforms, services, and transactions for scams.
“First, we need to stop scammers reaching consumers by disrupting the means by which they contact would-be victims – whether through phone calls, SMS, email, social media,” Ms Cass-Gottlieb said.
“Second, we need to better educate consumers so that if a scam contact makes it through to them, they are able to recognise it as a scam. Scammers are increasingly sophisticated and cunning in the ways they trick consumers and businesses, so this is a key challenge to address.
“Finally, we need measures in place so that if a consumer is convinced to attempt to transfer funds to a scammer there is a safety net there to prevent this from happening.”
Ms Cass-Gottlieb’s call to action follows the publication of the ACCC’s annual targeting scams report, which estimates more than $2 billion was lost to scammers in 2021.
Ms Cass-Gottlieb said that although enforcement action is important to fight scammers, the use of technology and intelligence were equally important in disrupting scammers before they can reach consumers.
The ACCC chair called for the adoption of a system that matches an account number to the intended recipient, similar to the United Kingdom’s Confirmation of Payee measure, to prevent payment redirection scams.
This year, more than $100 million in losses to crypto investment scams have been reported to Scamwatch. Ms Cass-Gottlieb said that the traditional banking sector have a role to play in countering cryptocurrency scams.
“Outright blocking of money transfers to any cryptocurrency exchange is not a path we are considering but [banks play a key role] in approving that first transfer of money to a cryptocurrency exchange during a scam,” Ms Cass-Gottlieb said.
“Banks often have a lifetime of data on their customers’ usual habits and have responsibility commensurate with that constructive knowledge of whether a customer is likely to be investing in cryptocurrency.”
This is an area that the ACCC will continue to work in, but Ms Cass-Gottlieb acknowledged the challenge it poses given the “sound but complicated definition of a ‘financial product’”.
The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) announced last week registered new rules that required telcos to identify, trace, and block SMS scams. Scams initiated through text message were the second most commonly reported method of scam reported to the ACCC’s Scamwatch team.
These new rules were developed in close collaboration between ACMA, telecommunications companies, and industry representative body Communications Alliance.
The organisations also collaborated on the Reducing Scam Calls Code, registered at the end of 2020, which Ms Cass-Gottlieb says has reduced the number of phone scams reports to the ACCC by more than 50 per cent in 2022. She also added that 357 million scam calls were blocked in the first year of the Code’s introduction.
In January, the eSafety Commissioner gained the power to issue take-down notices to online services hosting content considered to be online abuse, image-based abuse, and harmful online content, with a 24-hour time limit.
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