Interview with Johanna Nicholson and Fauziah Ibrahim, ABC Weekend News Breakfast
JOHANNA NICHOLSON, HOST: Scammers sending fake text messages will be targeted by a $10 million initiative that will see a registry set up as part of next month's Federal Budget.
FAUZIAH IBRAHIM, HOST: Now, Australians have lost an estimated $3.1 billion. That's a lot to scam attacks in the last year, with almost half of all Australians being scammed, deceived or exposed to fake messages. Well, for more, we are now joined by Communications Minister, Michelle Rowland. Thank you very much, Minister, for taking the time to speak with us today.
Before we actually get into this story about scammers and the new technology that the Government will be rolling out to target them, we would like to get your reflections on the passing of Australian icon Barry Humphries. What are your reflections?
MICHELLE ROWLAND, MINISTER FOR COMMUNICATIONS: It's terribly sad, and I think Barry Humphries really did pave the way for so much Australian talent to be showcased on the world stage and also in Australia. Such a unique personality. And I think today, if you thought up some of his characters, you would actually struggle to see how they would be successful, I think, compared to who they're competing against now. But he certainly brought a very unique sense of the Australian character, both to Australians, but also on the overseas stage, and will always be grateful for his trailblazing.
NICHOLSON: Let's get into this SMS Sender ID Registry Just tell us a bit more about how the technology will work.
ROWLAND: Well, many Australians, as you've said in your opening, have been exposed to scam texts. Even in the last year, that’s half of all Australians. And the current statistics show that the most common form of scamming is by text message.
What we are proposing here is an SMS Sender ID Registry. Just to give you a very practical example like a trusted brand like Australia Post. You may receive a series of texts from Australia Post saying that a parcel is going to be delivered. These scammers actually have the technology to infiltrate a legitimate text stream and insert a fake text that actually has a link that people go to thinking it's legitimate, they enter personal information and scammers can do everything from infiltrate IDs or even empty bank accounts. So, what this will do is have a Registry within which there will be originating numbers that will be assigned to particular companies, and sometimes they might be multiple numbers. The obligation will then be on the telco providers to ensure that they filter against those numbers. So, these illegitimate operators who are trying to use a different number actually will be stopped from doing so. It actually prevents the scam text from getting to the device.
IBRAHIM: Interesting, because I have fallen for that Australia Post scam once before. I didn't put in any of my personal IDs, of course, because I thought, I'm not expecting a parcel. Help me understand this. These scammers tend to change their numbers all the time, so how does the technology then stop these changing numbers?
ROWLAND: You're absolutely right and I think that the sophistication of these criminals, most of the time operating overseas, is that they find different ways to infiltrate this. But what this SMS ID Registry will be able to do is have a limited number of originating numbers from which those companies will say, we are going to send these texts from. If a different number is attempted by these scammers, it will be blocked by this Registry. This is being implemented or trialled, at least in the UK and Singapore at the moment. This really is cutting edge technology that we are going to be implementing in Australia. The Australian Government recognises that our primary responsibility is to keep Australian safe. As you say, $3 billion at least, being lost to scammers. This will be another tool in our arsenal to help protect Australians.
NICHOLSON: So, given that that amount of money is being lost already by Australians, this will be a phased introduction. When will this be actually up and running?
ROWLAND: We anticipate that we will be able to start this implementation expeditiously once this money has been allocated through the Budget. The industry has already been widely consulted through the regulator – the ACMA – and we anticipate that this will be fully up and running, at least within the next twelve months. There will be some trial periods, of course, and some milestones within that, but I can assure all your viewers we are working towards having this up and running as soon as possible because we recognise the extent to which Australians are suffering from this.
At the same time, I want to reassure people that whilst there is no silver bullet to stopping these scammers, there's a wide variety of resources that are available. For example, at Scamwatch.gov.au, there's a number of examples that people can go to and see what types of scams are out there, and what to be alert for. So, I urge all of your viewers to take just a few minutes to check that out.
IBRAHIM: This new technology that you're going to be rolling out will be linked to trusted brands, as you say, like Australia Posts and a lot of government departments and everything. But a lot of Australians are also scammed by the other scammers. And I think recently, over the last few months or so, there's the Hey Mum scam. You're aware of that? The ones where somebody texts someone and says, “Hey Mum, I'm using someone else's phone. Can you send me some money”. And that usually gets to a lot of very vulnerable elderly people as well who want to obviously help the children whom they think are in trouble. What about those sort of scammers? How are you planning to target them?
ROWLAND: I think there's two points. Firstly, what we've already got in place are service provider rules to obligate the telcos to identify, stop and trace scam texts and scam calls. An astounding half a billion scam calls have been blocked within the last year. And since the new rules came in for blocking scam texts, there's been some 90 million scam texts that have been blocked.
Whilst we know that there is still that threat, the existing rules that we have in place now, we know they are having an impact. I think it also comes back to a really important education piece for all Australians to be aware that if something looks too good to be true it probably is, examine what the trends are as well – again, by going to Scamwatch and you can see that there are those trends, including Hey Mum.
Again, I want to assure all of your viewers that this is perceived and certainly is being approached by the Albanese Government as a whole-of-government issue. We have the AFP, we have the telco sector, and we also ensure that we've got the most relevant discussions happening with banking institutions as well. So, we're bringing all these together in our National Anti-Scams Centre. But in the meantime, we are taking some very practical steps, including this investment in the SMS Sender ID Registry. So, all of these, I think, will come together to hopefully make a measurable difference for Australians.
IBRAHIM: Communications Minister Michelle Rowland, thank you so much for joining us today.