Banks unveil new weapon to ‘freeze’ scam payments

Banks put scammers on notice

Australia’s banks have joined forces to unveil a new weapon to help save victims from transferring their money to scammers.

The crucial tool means banks can communicate quickly to “freeze” the payments from one bank to another.

The Australian Banking Association unveiled its Fraud Reporting Exchange (FRX) platform on Tuesday.

“Given every minute can be crucial in disrupting scams, the launch of the FRX is a major development,” ABA chief executive Anna Bligh said.

“It means more and more scammers are going to hit a brick wall and adds to the arsenal of anti-scam initiatives under way.”

The platform would boost “the likelihood that funds can be frozen and returned to customers”.

Ms Bligh said it was a major development that would streamline communication between the banks and enable them to move quickly.

“You might have had a phone call from somebody pretending to be a bank or the tax office or something, and you authorise a scam payment [and] off that money goes out of your account into an account at another bank,” Ms Bligh told the ABC.

“That takes time right now – or used to – for banks to contact each other to get all the details to potentially freeze the account that it’s gone to, and that means that, unfortunately, those scammers have already taken it out and sent it overseas or to a crypto platform.”

It’s estimated more than $3 billion was lost to scammers in Australia in 2022, five times the amount that was lost during 2020.

Figures have shown the average loss from a scam is about $20,000.

Meanwhile, an $86 million National Anti-Scams Centre will be set up as part of a crackdown on fraud, with money set aside in the recent federal budget.

National anti-scam centre unveiled

The centre, to be run by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, will be operational by July.

Assistant Treasurer Stephen Jones said information sharing between partners would be critical in an effort to stop scams before money is taken from customers.

“We’re going in there, we’ll be doing disruption activity to ensure [the scammers’] job of stealing money from Australians is going to be harder and harder and harder,” he told ABC TV on Monday.

“If we get reports of a scam that’s out in the field targeting most small businesses …we want to be able to notify banks, we want to be able to notify small business organisations and we want to be able to notify law enforcement as quickly as possible.”

However, Consumer Action Law Centre chief executive Stephanie Tonkin said more needed to be done to help people who had already lost money to scammers.

“It will only deliver meaningful outcomes if it is backed up by new laws that mandate industry action on scam prevention and impose liability for losses when they fail,” she said.

“What we need now is for banks to reimburse scams victims – except in circumstances of gross negligence – and this needs to be made mandatory by the federal government.”

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