Phone scam calls have halved since last year, data from the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s Scamwatch shows, but other investment frauds – including on social media and via text messages – have soared over the same period.
The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) introduced the Reducing Scam Calls code in December 2020. It has seen telcos block over 549m scam calls since its inception.
The code was developed by the Communications Alliance, the communications industry’s peak body, in conjunction with major providers and had been in the works for several years.
The chief executive of the Communications Alliance, James Stanton, said: “The code has greatly improved the communication and the coordination of action between carriers to identify, trace and block scam calls.”
“The difficulty is that the scammers are incredibly agile. As soon as they see one avenue being blocked, they’re very good at finding a new one to exploit. So it’s a constant car chase to prevent that activity.”
The code’s introduction coincided with a major spike in phone scams during the pandemic, emphasizing the need for an industry-wide approach.
Stanton said most providers had provisions to curb scammers, but consolidating the processes and creating legally binding accountability allowed for more effective deterrence.
The code requires telecommunication providers to monitor their networks, identify scam calls’ characteristics, and then block them.
Significantly, it also requires participants to communicate with other telecommunication companies and the regulator about the identified scam so the rest of the industry can be alerted.
Acma’s Fiona Cameron said the code had been effective, but the adaptability of scammers meant that the fight was far from over.
“You’ll still find that the phone is the most predominant way scammers get through to potential victims. And that’s large because scammers pick very soft targets. And if you’ve got a fixed home phone, if you’re older and you’re at home more, and more available to pick up the phone, scammers will go to you,” Cameron said.
“Back in 2020, when we were developing the code, we wanted not to make the phone such an easy target.”
ACCC data shows Australians lost more than $205m in the first four months of 2022, with the majority of losses coming from “crypto-investment scams,” which increased by over 300%. Those scams were primarily via text message – a method that has seen an increase in scamming of 54% since last year.
The ACCC’s deputy chair, Delia Rickard, said: “Australians should be very wary of anyone asking them to invest in or transfer money using cryptocurrency, especially if it’s someone you have only met online. Many consumers are unfamiliar with cryptocurrency’s complexities, which can make them more vulnerable to scams.”
A new code to be implemented this year will attempt to tackle text messaging similarly toone code. The Communications Alliance has finalized the draft, and it is being reviewed by Acma.
“The text code has now been registered with us, and we will, in the next few weeks, work to make sure that all the safeguards we believe are necessary are in the code,” said Cameron. She also confirmed the new code had been delayed due to privacy concerns relating to telcos accessing texts to scan them for scams.