15 May 2023




MONDAY, 15 MAY 2023

Subject: Government's response to scams


STEPHEN JONES: We've got some enthusiastic supporters for our action on scams. We've also got representatives behind us from the consumer organisations, from banks, from the telecommunications and social media platforms. We're all here for one reason and that's to take the fight up to the scammers. Over $3 billion a year is being lost to scams and consumer frauds. And until now, too often, Australians, households and small businesses have had to fight them on their own. Well, that's going to stop. Our policy to fight scams, whole of government policy is about ensuring that we are taking the fight up to scammers, to ensure that consumers are better protected. And across government, across the public sector and the private sector, we are working cooperatively, we are working together to share our information and our resources to take the fight up. So, this $56 million announcement to establish a National Anti‑Scam Centre is about taking that fight to the scammers. It involves three things.

First, it's about ensuring that when reports are made, wherever they're made, whether it's to the National Anti‑Scam Centre, whether it's to ASIC, whether it's to a state or federal police organisation or to a bank or telecommunications company we are sharing the information so that the people who need to know that a scam is out there in the field are able to act on it quickly. As soon as money leaves a person's bank account, it's almost too late.

So, this is all about ensuring that we can knock the scams on the head before they get out there in the field, and that we can be sharing information amongst law enforcement, amongst banks, telecommunications companies, the social media platforms and the regulators to act as quickly as is humanly possible to ensure that we don't let the scam spread. In addition to that, we're going to establish fusion cells. Think of them as a hit squad. This is about getting experts together across regulators, across law enforcement, across the finance sector, telecommunications and social media platforms, bringing their expertise together for a short term action, a hit squad to go after a particular sort of scams.

So, in the Budget last Tuesday, we allocated funds to ensure that we could bring those resources together and take the fight ups to the scammers through the fusion cell. And in addition to that, ensuring that the consumers have the information. And we're educating consumers on how they can protect themselves against these criminals who are trying to rob them of their hard earned cash. So, this is an important initiative. It is working hand in hand with the initiative that my colleague Michelle Rowland has announced earlier, which is about a Caller ID registry, if you like. This is a whitelist of approved numbers. If somebody is calling you and pretending to be your bank, that call or that SMS message will be blocked. An SMS message will be blocked unless it's coming through from the authorised number, from a bank, from a government agency, and we intend to expand that over time.

We anticipate that as a result of these initiatives, the actual reported number of scams will probably increase more attention, greater faith from the Australian community that if something is going to be done about scams, will probably lead to an increase in scams reporting. Will probably lead to an increase in scam reporting. Over the last twelve months the ACCC advises me that we've had close to a quarter of million scams reported on an annual basis. We know that that's probably the tip of the iceberg because a lot of people don't report. We're encouraging Australians to report it. If you think you have been scammed, report it because if they've attacked you, they're probably going to attack somebody else as well. And the whole idea of our National Anti‑Scam Centre is about knocking them on the head, trying to act quickly and decisively before the harm spreads throughout the community. Happy to take questions.

JOURNALIST: How will the collaboration between government and private sector work together in practice when these scams occur?

JONES: A couple of ways. Firstly through sharing of information. Some of this is already occurring, but we're going to lift it up to a whole new scale to ensure that when the Commonwealth, through any of its regulatory agencies or law enforcement, receives information that it is shared through the National Anti‑Scam Centre through trusted protocols, and that is also distributed particularly onto banks to consumer organisations, so that they can warn their customers or warn the people that they advocate on behalf of acting quickly limits the harm. Once the money has left a bank account, it's almost impossible to get it back again.

JOURNALIST: Will the centre result in a reduction in overall scam losses? And if so, are there any forecasts by how much?

JONES: By how much the whole objective is about reducing scam losses. I anticipate that as a result of this initiative, reporting is going to go up. Let's just be clear about it. As a result of this initiative, reporting will probably go up because we know we're only getting and hearing about the tip of the iceberg at the moment. We want to know more so that we can act faster and act better to ensure that we can reduce the losses. Yes, of course. The whole objective of the National Anti‑Scam Centre is about reducing consumer harm, reducing consumer losses.

JOURNALIST: How will this new centre help people who have already been scammed? Is there any part of it that will work with them target to try maybe get them some money back?

JONES: It's almost impossible to get money back once it's been lost. We are successful in some cases about recovering money and of course what we want to do. And when I talk to consumers who have been scammed, when I talk to people who've been scammed, I say I want to ensure that this doesn't happen to somebody else.