Australia to appoint federal anti-scam cop in two years’ time

Article published 17 May 2023

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Australia to appoint federal anti-scam cop in two years’ time

Scams and scam texts, emails and calls are the blight of being online and connected. The federal Government is acting, but it will take time.

THE days of someone in a pub trying to sell you the Harbour Bridge seem to be pretty much over. Scams have moved online.

Online includes mobile phones, where scammers seem to have free reign with automated calls threatening legal action and text messages urging to provide bank details or to click on a link, all with dire consequences for people who fall for it.

You used to be able to call the police on scammers who came to your door or accosted you in the street. But there’s no such defence or deterrence against online scammers, who may be located on the other side of the globe.

It’s therefore time government stepped in to protect citizens.

Government response to scams

The 9 May Budget allocated $58 million for funding over the next three years to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) for a to-be-established National Anti-Scam Centre.

The ACCC is already active in the area, but it is anything but a tough cop. The ACCC Scamwatch website will take reports of real and suspected scams, but says that Scamwatch “is unable to help you recover money lost to a scam or assist in tracking down a scammer”.

Scamwatch does provide links where scam victims can get “help”, but essentially if you have been scammed, you’re on your own.

Scamwatch is one of those well-intentioned but largely useless initiatives which make it seem government is doing something. Australian Security and Investment Commission (ASIC) data show that 96 per cent of scam victims don’t get their money back.

National Anti-Scam Centre

The thing about the new National Anti-Scam Centre is that it will enforce a mandatory code of practice on banks, telecommunications companies and big social media platforms like Facebook to take down scammers’ websites, advertising and user accounts.

Under the code of practice, banks, telecommunications companies and big social media platforms will be liable to reimburse consumers who lose money to scams, except in cases of a consumer’s gross negligence.

Banks are against it, and that may still throw a spanner into the works. But as the Australian Financial Review reports, the financial services minister Stephen Jones is adamant: “We’ll consult the hell out of [the mandatory code] but once we reach a landing, it’s got to stick, and it’ll be enforceable”.

“The code is essentially about providing a very clear set of expectations within the industry, about their obligations and what consumers can expect from their banks,  [telecommunications companies] and social media platforms, setting out a clear set of expectations of what they are required to do in respect of the information they hold and consumers they look after”.

Borrowing from a United Kingdom and Canadian initiative which has been successfully used for anti-terrorism, money laundering and cyber crime prevention, the National Anti-Scam Centre will establish a new $44 million intelligence platform to disrupt scams.

What’s done to stop scams at source

At the same time, the Australian Security and Investment Commission (ASIC) will be given authority to identify and take down websites that promote investment scams.

You can also expect fewer fraudulent texts on your mobile that look like they come from government agencies or banks or reputable companies. A registry operating to block those texts at source will be developed.

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