MONDAY, 22 NOVEMBER 2021
SUBJECTS: Scamdemic; covid vaccines
TOM CONNELL, HOST: There is no shortage of scam warnings these days, whether it be answering that dodgy text message or perhaps an unsolicited call for the debt that you owe to someone somewhere. Labor is now calling on the Government to cease the ATO being able to call you for a tax debt. Joining me is Labor MP Stephen Jones, the Shadow Financial Services Minister. You say there's no issue of debt collecting. You don't think it should be done via phone calls. So this is a phone call coming from the ATO to a person.
STEPHEN JONES: Is it?
CONNELL: What’s wrong with that?
JONES: Is it? That’s what we don’t know. So one of the most prolific scams over the last 12 months where people are calling Australians saying, I'm from the Tax Office, you owe us some money and can you give us your account? And you don't pay it within five days we're going to take you to court. If it wasn't the Tax Office, it was Border Force and if it wasn't Border Force it was someone else. So the problem here is what you've got is the Tax Office duplicating a practice that is a known scam conducted by frauds and criminals online. At the very worst it's confusing, but what is more likely to be the case is it's actually priming Australians to engage in the sorts of behaviour which most experts in the cyber world says that’s pretty risky. So what we need, and I'm not saying that the tax office can't use every method available to them to collect unpaid debts, but there needs to be a mechanism where the person receiving that call, who has to identify themselves by the way, is able to verify that the person they're talking to is who they say they are.
CONNELL: Well, how do you know they're not already? What happens in a call if it is from the ATO so there's a method of them saying who it is. Isn’t that the whole point?
JONES: In the calls that I have had, no. I have to go through a verification process to prove who I am, but when I ask to verify who the person is who’s made the call I can’t do it. And that’s the problem, and whether it’s the Tax Office or …
CONNELL: You’re saying a cold call is fine? A debt collection agency can still call someone up? That’s still OK?
JONES: No, no, I'm not saying that at all. In fact, that's where the problem is. This is the issue, Tom …
CONNELL: I understand the issue you’re saying. But debt collection agencies often work this way. People ignore calls. They ignore emails. I actually know someone who works in this field. And the only way they get people to sign up is to get them on the phone and say look this problem’s not going away. Let’s put you on a payment plan, convincing them on the phone to do that. Take away that, how are you going to collect the debt?
JONES: Find another way because that's exactly the same mechanism that scammers use. I was talking to somebody this morning, $45,000 gone before they picked up the fact that they were talking to a scammer. Yes, they had a legitimate debt but they didn't have a debt with the person who collect the $45,000 from them. This is a $33bn a year problem, $33bn. This is not small-time stuff. Thirty three billion dollars stolen from …
CONNELL: But isn’t the issue the verification of …
JONES: Yes and that's my point. That's the point That I've been trying to make from the very beginning. The tax office has got to find a way …
CONNELL: I’m just a bit confused here. Why can’t the cold call work but the person still be verified in some way?
JONES: Well, the why it works at the moment is if I receive a cold call, I've got a verify who I am, but I have no way, If you're the person making the call, verifying who you are. That's got to stop. We've got to find another way.
CONNELL: What is another way?
JONES: This is the problem that surely the Government and the Tax Office …
CONNELL: Well, what is the alternative?
JONES: I can think of actually about half a dozen ways it can happen.
CONNELL: Give us a couple.
JONES: I'm not going to because of security reasons, because you don't set yourself a manual for how scammers get around it. You don’t publish a manual for how scammers get around it and cyber security experts will provide you with a range of different mechanisms.
CONNELL: Will they include still be able to cold call people or not?
JONES: Hear me out on this, hear me out on this. Some of the best banks do at the moment through two-factor identification. If it can work one way it can work the other way as well.
CONNELL: Well I mean we’ve all used it …
JONES: But they’re not and that’s my point. That’s my point. They’re not doing it. That is my point Tom.
CONNELL: All right, all right. What I’m saying is you got a bit cold on the cold calls. I’m just a bit confused as to why they couldn’t be verified, so that you just have to make sure the person can verify you are who you say you are.
JONES: And that’s what I’ve written to the Minister on, saying that ensuring when your staff are contacting Australians and demanding anything that they have got to be able to verify that they are from the ATO, otherwise the person on the end of the line is entitled to say you can’t verify, I’m hanging up.
CONNELL: So a cold call is all right?
JONES: It’s the fact that there has to be a way that you can verify. Otherwise, we're priming people to engage in very risky behaviour that is costing us $33bn a year.
CONNELL: Can I just ask quickly as well, so the rights of the unvaxed is an urgent question. We're going to get, it’s like more than 90 percent of people vaccinated.
JONES: A good outcome.
CONNELL: A great outcome. One to two percent of people traditionally in the country have been actually anti-vax. You are going to have a few percent that are vaccine hesitant. Is it important not to have the vaccine hesitant pushed towards the anti-vaxers?
JONES: One hundred percent, 100 percent.
CONNELL: And important not to divide them? So once we get above 90 percent double dosed, not split people up? Not say, you can go to a cafe and you can't?
JONES: Well, I actually don't think there's anything wrong with somebody who owns a business setting rules that say this is who is welcome to come into my establishment and this is who I’ve got concerns about …
CONNELL: What about at a statewide level?
JONES: Why is it OK, whether it is a state or federal, why is it OK to say jeans not allowed in my establishment, that’s legal. No runners, no jeans, no singlet allowed in my bar but somehow …
CONNELL: I’m not talking about the right of that place. I’m saying a statewide mandate. (indistinct) If you leave it up to a business, some will let them, some won’t. People will still be able to go to a café. But statewide they won’t be able to go to a café. That’s the point. So what’s your view on that?
JONES: My view is that if there is a legitimate health reason and around an occupation then I support it. And if all the health advice is saying actually it's too risky …
CONNELL: But that’s a bit of a cop out.
JONES: No, it’s not a cop-out at all. It’s, why are we doing this? We’re doing this to keep people safe.
CONNELL: But if you’re vaccinated that’s the best thing you can do for your own safety.
JONES: That’s exactly right.
CONNELL: So you still think a statewide mandate is the OK in that situation.
JONES: No, I didn’t say that at all Tom. I didn’t say a statewide mandate. I said if there is a …
CONNELL: That’s what’s been going on in Victoria (indistinct).
JONES: … if there is a health justification, whether it is on an occupation or an industry …
CONNELL: Should we see that advice there?
JONES: Absolutely, I believe we should see that health advice.