18 November 2021


SUBJECTS: Labor’s Scambuster policy; working with business to take on scammers. 

Now these scam texts, I was grizzling about them yesterday because I have been getting scam voice messages now telling me to do things. They are relentless and they're smart. They're getting, look this is how big it is. The National Cybersecurity Centre Report days during the 2021 financial year self-reported losses from cybercrime totalled $33bn, $33bn now. We’re starting to get some some ideas on this and in fact it’s turning into an election issue. The Federal Labor Party's released a policy on it. What's the latest scam? Are you getting any Bitcoin scams or call from Border Force or the Tax Department? 133 683. On the line is the Federal Labor MP and Shadow Minister for Financial Services and Superannuation, Stephen Jones. Good morning. 


MITCHELL: Now you’ve got an idea with the link when you get a text message with a link on it and you go to that link, that's when you get into trouble. Have you got a thought on what we can do about that?

JONES: Yeah, there's two things that are risks. One is the link. And the problem we have is a lot of legitimate businesses have for many years now been sending out a clickable link in an SMS and or an email that direct you to their website or direct you to a customer form that they fill out with personal information. Totally aboveboard, totally legitimate. The scammers are on to it. They've been doing the same thing, whether it's a parcel pickup Amazon scam, whether it's an Australia Post scam whether it's somebody pretending to be your electricity company or your phone company. Labor’s got a plan to deal with this. We want to set up a new Anti-Scam Centre. We want to crack down on the scammers, look at the social media companies and what they're doing, the banks and the financial services as well. But there's a big role for business in all of this. They've got to review their own practices. Now, I’m not having a bash at business, but I'm saying the world's changed and we've got to look at our practices that are actually training, or priming people to engage in risky practices.

MITCHELL: You would ask businesses to stop using those little links in their messages? 

JONES: Yep, I think we've got to go there because the examples you've just given have are a perfect description of what's going on in customers’ heads. They can now no longer trust what is a legitimate link and what is not a legitimate link. It's damaging people's confidence in online commerce.  I myself have looked at stuff when I've got a power bill and said, oh is this a real one or not? And I've put off paying it and gone to the phone centre to make contact to pay it. So I don't think I’m Robinson Crusoe. I think lots of people are doing that. Same thing when they get an unsolicited phone call from an outbound call centre. The first thing that the operator says is ask you to identify yourself by providing a whole heap of personal information. But there's no way that the person receiving the call can verify that this is a legitimate person on the other end of the line. So we’ve got to change, we’ve got to make some changes.

MITCHELL: Yeah, interesting one. I got a call myself this week from somebody who said, am I talking to Neil Mitchell? And I'm not going to tell you that! Why? You called me? What do you want? And said, we're from the government, we're here to help you. And it was, it was the state government. I said, hang on, you’re the only one from the state government still to talking to me. All right. So if you do away with, it’s nice to be talking to a Labor person, if you do away with that little link on legitimate stuff, what do you do? How do you how do you get around it? How do you have you get the connection? 

JONES: Yeah, good question. A lot of business has shifted to apps. You know, trusted apps, verified apps and they can send messages within apps, there’s different way of doing that. Australia Post is moving more towards that. They still are unfortunately still sending out URLs as well, but they're shifting to an app-based contact method. So there are alternatives. And we're asking businesses also who use outbound call centres to find a way that the customer can actually verify that they're a legitimate source as well. Because you, I think you said in your intro, Border Force here to threaten you. Frankly, Border Force doesn't do that. Or the Tax Office, here to send your business into bankruptcy. All of those scams are going on. It's damaging people's confidence in commerce and government and all of these things. So we need to step up. 

MITCHELL: Well, you talk about a National Anti-Scam Centre. What would that be? How would that work? 

JONES: Yeah, these things are dynamic. So the scammers are smart. They're not, these are not plunkers, they're actually smart people. So they're changing their strategies all the time. So, we need to ensure that we have an interception and a fast reaction centre, which brings together the regulators, the police forces from state and federal but critically also the telecommunications companies and the social media companies, which if you like are the vectors, the pipelines that the scammers use, and the wallet at the end of the transaction, which is the banks. Get them all in together, working partnership between government, law enforcement and industry monitoring things in real times. If we see something dodgy emerging, jump on it straight away. Warn the bank's, put the blocks in place, warn the telcos, put the blocks in place and ensure the vulnerable customers aren't at risk. So, that's an important thing. Lifting the fines and penalties is another important thing. And ensuring the social media companies aren't profiting from this unconscionable conduct as well. So, there's a bunch of things we can do. We should be doing. Sadly, the government's not. 

MITCHELL: What would your penalties be? How much would you increase them? 

JONES: Review all of the penalties to ensure that there is a real disincentive in place. So we'll work with law enforcement authorities, to say okay what are the raft of penalties that are currently applying and where can we lift them? Included in all of that is ensuring that people actually don't profit from bad behaviour even if they're running a legitimate business, like a I don't know, Facebook or Twitter or Google is a legitimate businesses, but they might be taking ad revenue from an illegitimate one.

MITCHELL: What are the penalties in the moment? 

JONES: There are raft of penalties that generally apply. And in fact, there are some activities where there are no penalties in place at all, basically depending on whether they're prosecuted by, whether it's a breach of a state or a federal law. 

MITCHELL: But what would the maximum fine be at the moment? 

JONES: Depends. It can range from $10,000 to $100,000 depending on your prosecuting individuals or multiple sorts of incidents and the quantum of the of the scam is that is involved, but that's not enough. 

MITCHELL: Okay, and can you stop Craig Kelly texting me? 

JONES: Mate, this is a point I’ve been making all the time to businesses. We should be able to stop these nuisance text messages. I don't think legitimate businesses want to be bundled in in with Craig Kelly and the scammers. So, it's a good reason why they should be changing their practices as well. 

MITCHELL: Oh yeah, but hang on your lot were in the middle of that with “mediscare”.

JONES: Look I’m not saying parties shouldn't change their practices as well, Neil. I am. I think we've all got to look at what we're doing ensure that we're engaging in behaviours that don't prime customers to do the wrong thing and fall foul of traps. And you know what, we often think of the victims of scams being poor, vulnerable people maybe older people, marginalised communities. I've had so many conversations over the last month where I've been talking to people with PhDs, the CEOs of financial corporations, people who are pretty savvy dudes who might have been caught on the hop while they're trying to bundle the kids out off to school with a phone in their ear. They are doing three things at once. and they get caught.