Scam calls are going down in Australia but more needs to be done: ACMA

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Rules designed to curb scam calls are paying off, according to the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA). The bad news is that scam calls remain a problem nonetheless, and more action is needed to deal with them, ACMA chair Nerida O’Loughlin said in an address to the telecoms industry.

“Mention ‘scams’ to anyone and the depth of frustration quickly becomes evident. Recent ACMA research found most people are annoyed by scam calls, and 33% feel anxious, distressed or vulnerable,” she said. “Every scam call that doesn’t reach a consumer is a good outcome, and every initiative that helps disrupt scammers makes Australia a harder target and increases confidence in our telecommunications services.”

The ACMA’s Combating Scams Action Plan, launched in late 2019, has seen the agency and the telecoms industry develop a number of initiatives aimed at reducing phone scams, including the registration of new rules at the end of 2020 requiring telcos to detect and block scam calls.

According to new figures released by the ACMA on Monday, over 549 million scam calls have been blocked since the rules were implemented almost two years ago, indicating that these initiatives are having an impact, as are rules to prevent mobile porting fraud introduced in mid-2020. The ACMA says there has been a 95% decrease in reported mobile fraud since the new obligations were enacted.

Both the ACMA and Scamwatch have recently seen dramatic decreases in complaints about scam calls for the first quarter of this year.

“We anticipate SIM-swap scams to also reduce when new rules come into effect on 30 June,” said O’Loughlin.

However, O’Loughlin said while all this is encouraging, there is still more to be done to prevent phone scams from reaching users.

“Combating scams is a seriously challenging business, and while we are having some wins, set-and-forget industry efforts and regulatory obligations are not going to effectively address the problem,” she said.

O’Loughlin called on telcos to prioritize development of new rules to block SMS scams, continue to build their capability to identify and block scams, and provide more information to their customers about how to identify and stop scam calls.

She also said that the telco industry and the financial sector need to work together to share data. “It is only by continued strong collaboration across government, the telco industry [and] the financial sector that we will keep succeeding.”

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