363 million SMS scams: New weapon in the war on fraudsters

A new registry will help protect government agencies from being impersonated by scammers on SMS.

A new registry will help protect government agencies from being impersonated by scammers on SMS. Photo: Getty

Text messages from official sources such as MyGov will be protected from being impersonated by scammers under a new pilot scheme from the communications regulator targeting rising fraud rates.

The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) said on Friday that a new Sender ID registry will prevent scammers from intruding into text chains from official sources like MyGov.

The technology has shown success in other countries and will be used to combat the rising tide of SMS fraud, with new data showing 33.6 million scam texts have been caught since July 2022.

ACMA chair Nerida O’Loughlin said 16 scam texts were blocked for every adult in Australia between July 2022 and September 2023 under a new scam text industry code with the telcos.

That code requires telcos to identify, trace, and block SMS scams through their systems.

“These figures provide stark evidence of the scale of scam activity, O’Loughlin said.

“There is no single or easy solution to address scams, however every scam stopped is a win for consumers and helps make Australia a harder target for these criminal syndicates.”

No silver bullet

The new Sender ID registry tool has been developed under the federal government’s “Fighting Scams” initiative, which is tied in with the National Anti-Scam centre that opened back in July.

The hope is that it will prevent scammers from sneaking their messages into the conversation chains between Australians and legitimate government sources, such as MyGov messages.

ACMA said the technology will not “eliminate” impersonation scams, but will “increase trust”, with SMS fraud accounting for about a third of the scams seen across the nation each year.

“Close engagement with overseas registry providers has shown such registries are a valuable tool to protect consumers and brands,” the regulator said.

As ever, the best tool for combatting scammers is education and O’Loughlin said Australians need to be particularly vigilant over the Christmas period, when fraudsters try to catch people.

“The lead up to the end-of-year holidays is often used by scammers to step up their activities – including via fake parcel delivery messages,” she said.

Parcel delivery scams usually involve a text message from a fraudster impersonating a delivery company, pretending to ask you about an online order you might have placed in recent weeks.

The idea is that if you have placed a delivery for a parcel through a legitimate channel, you might be more susceptible to text messages from unknown numbers with links about parcel tracking.

The scam is so successful that the ACCC estimates more than a million dollars are being lost to such scams annually, with O’Loughlin urging Australians to think twice when they get an SMS.

Slow down and think

“We encourage Australians to think about who’s really contacting them and to discuss how to identify scams with their friends, family and loved ones,” she said.

“It pays to slow down and think before acting on a call or message, and always research and independently check who you’re dealing with.”

Australians that encounter a scam are urged to contact the National Anti-Scam centre’s Scamwatch program, which was expanded earlier this year to curb rising rates of fraud.

IDCARE is also available to anyone worried their identity has been compromised or if you’ve been a victim of a scam, their number is 1800 595 160.

Topics: scams
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