Multimillion-dollar centre to crack down on scammers

Plans unveiled for national scam-busting centre

Consumer advocates have welcomed the government’s announcement of a multimillion-dollar anti-scam centre to help crack down on fraud.

More than $86 million was set aside in the recent federal budget to create a National Anti-Scams Centre, which will be up and running by July.

The centre will be run by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission and will be a partnership with government agencies, banks, telco companies and online platforms to stop scams from taking place.

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.”

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.

Consumer group Choice said the new centre was a big step towards helping consumers. But businesses should also work with government to detect and intercept scams.

“Scams have the potential to ruin the livelihoods of people across Australia. We’ve heard from people who have lost their life savings from scams that could have been intercepted,” Choice chief executive Alan Kirkland said.

“Large businesses like banks, telecommunication companies and social media platforms are often in the best position to identify and intercept scams. They’ve access to better data and technology than their customers and need to be using this to protect them.”

“The only way we can stop the growing harm caused by scams is by requiring businesses to work closely with the government to identify and intercept scams in real time. We’re glad to see this approach at the heart of the new centre.”

Banks are also under increasing pressure to do more to resolve scams, after a critical report released by corporate watchdog ASIC in April.

It covered the big four banks – Westpac, NAB, Commonwealth and ANZ – and their scam procedures in the 2021-22 financial year.

It found that about 31,100 of the banks’ customers lost more than $558 million to scams in that year. Only about $21 million was paid in compensation, and the rate of reimbursement was between 2 and 5 per cent.

Mr Jones said the anti-scams centre would share information across government departments to interrupt scams in real time, as well help raise consumer awareness of scams that were ongoing.

“We’re also going to set up fusion cells, which are like a hit squad, where we’re going after certain types of scams and taking the fight up to the scammers to ensure that they don’t get an even break,” he said.

“If we’re doing disruption activity we need the capacity and the disruption and the intel the banks have, to work with law enforcement, to work with the ACCC and others to ensure that we can go after these scammers.”

– with AAP

Topics: ACCC, scams
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