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Press conference on the expansion of the AFCX scams intelligence loop

Press conference on the expansion of the AFCX scams intelligence loop

13 June 2024

Stephen Jones, Assistant Treasurer and Minister for Financial Services: Good morning everybody, how are we going? Good to speak with you. Great to be here this morning, an exciting accountment. As you know the Albanese government has made a priority fighting scammers and ensuring that we can keep Australian’s money safe. From coming into government over the first year we’ve implemented phase one of our anti scam plan. It’s about standing up the national anti scam centre, a genuine partnership between government, banks, telecommunications companies and social media companies, gathering intelligence and ensuring that we can feed that intelligence out to where it’s needed to crack down on the scammers. It’s about intercepting and interrupting the scammers activity. We’ve also empowered the Australian Securities and Investment Commission with additional funds and capacity to pull more web pages down so that Australians aren’t directed towards fake investment scams, one of the biggest areas of losses. I’m very pleased to say that after its first year of operation the partnership between banks, between government, between telecommunications companies on those initiatives that I’ve outlined, they’re working. This is the first time we’ve been able to say in over a decade that scam losses, that used to double every year, are now actually coming down. Too early to crack the champagne cork, but we have seen a 16 per cent reduction in scam losses and this is material. There is not any other country in the world that can say that over the last 12 months they’ve seen a reduction in the losses to scam. So this is something we can be proud of but not be complacent about. Of course what I’ve described is just the first phase of the Albanese Government’s plan to crack down on scammers and keep Australian’s money safe. The next initiative which we’re announcing this morning is really exciting, it’s the Intel loop. It’s giving our anti scam agenda the capacity to intercept scam phone calls, intercept scam phone messages based on intelligence that we’ve gathered through the ecosystem. Interrupt the scammers in the process of attempting to rip off Australians and at the same time as interrupting them blocking their contacts with their victims, taking the next step and pulling down those fake investment websites. An exciting new development, we have just got back off the plane, literally just off the plane, from Singapore this morning where we’ve been talking to the authorities up there about their national anti-scam agenda and I can honestly say there’s not a country in the world that is further advanced than us. We’re always looking to learn from other places in the world but I’m very pleased to say that the initiative that we’re announcing this morning, the new capacity that we’re announcing this morning, a genuine partnership between the phone companies, between the National Anti Scam Centre, between the banks and the social media platforms will have another level of protection for Australians to keep their information and their money safe. With those brief comments I’m going to invite Heidi Snell, who is running the National Anti Scam Centre for the Government to make a few comments. We’ll then hear from Ana, from David and then happy to take some questions thank you.

Heidi Snell, Executive General Manager, National Anti-Scam Centre: Thanks very much Minister, good morning everyone. A key role of the National Anti Scam Centre is facilitating data sharing to help takedown scammers before they hit Australians. And so this partnership with Australian Financial Crimes Exchange to share data in near real-time will further enhance those disruption activities. So the National Anti Scams Centre will be able to feed in data that we received from consumers who report it to us into the loop and then banks and telcos and platforms as they get on board will be able to action that data and better protect consumers. So we are really excited about this partnership and look forward to seeing more people come on board with it and see action happen more quickly to protect Australians, thank you.

Anna Bligh, CEO, Australian Banking Association: Knowing what your enemy is up to is important, an important weapon in any war. And in the war on scams knowing what scammers are doing and knowing it at speed is one of the most important weapons that we can use to get scammers out of Australia. This financial crimes exchange was built and funded by Australia’s banks. This announcement this morning is very significant because it means for the first time, and we suspect one of the only places in the world, we see this information exchange happening not only between banks and telcos and social media platforms but joining up with government. So this intelligence loop joins government and the private sector to share information about what scammers are up to. To share it more quickly in almost real time, to give more protections to more Australians. It’s a very significant leap forward in the war on scams, and we look forward to seeing more players come onto this loop so that we can see it become even more effective over time.

James Roberts, General Manager, CBA Fraud and Scams Strategy and Governance: Maybe just to give some deeper context as to what the loop does at a practical level, we have a bit of an aspiration to try and half the amount of time that bad content is live out there impacting Australians. If you half the time that the content is out there, you half the impact to Australians. We’ve decided on the loop to go with David from the AFCX to go with the first use case being SMS phishing. As per the ACCC and NASC reports on targeting scams for 2023, that represents about 46 per cent by volume of all the attacks on Australians.In a proof of concept that we did with one of the telcos we put only 62 SMSs through a proof of concept pathway and that resulted in over 470,000 subsequent SMSs being stopped, so really a massive multiplier effect. At a practical level for Australians, CBA has the privilege of being the first bank to integrate with the loop. We’ve sent 1263 dubious SMSs through it, generally speaking it’s road toll, genuine brand impersonation, road toll, loyalty brands, even taxation. So something that most Australians would be able to associate with, so really the big call out from us is just a call to all the banks all the telcos, and the digital platforms to integrate in a team Australia play to try and make our country that bit safer.

Stephen Jones: Okay happy to take questions.

Journalist: Stephen there’s only one digital platform attached to this at the moment, Meta, have you talked to Twitter, X and Google about getting them involved and is not having them involved going to be some sort of massive inhibitor to this communication loop?

Stephen Jones: This is the beginning of a new functionality, the communication loop providing intelligence and acting on that intelligence in real time, we want them all on board, clear message to the social media platforms, if you’re operating in Australia you’ve got to be a part of the team which is fighting the scammers, and if your platforms are the means that scammers are getting to their victims then you’ve got a responsibility. If you’re profiting from the digital economy then you got a responsibility to keep your platforms safe. So good that Meta is onboard, we want to see a real up lift in our capacity but the message to the rest of the social media platforms: get on board.

Journalist: Have you talked to any of the other ones?

Stephen Jones: Absolutely, talking to all the social media platforms to ensure that they are a part of this partnership approach and of course what I didn’t talk about in the introduction, which is the next phase after this, which is our legislative agenda, new codes of practice new legal obligations on social media platforms and others. There is not going to be any place to hide, everybody who is operating within this ecosystem has to pull their weight and ensure that they are doing everything they can do to keep Australians’ money safe.

Journalist: If you’ve talked to the other platforms, what have they said about why they’re not getting involved?

Stephen Jones: These are ongoing discussions, we’re launching today, we’ve had the proof of concept, but I don’t think anyone could be under any doubt about this Government’s resolution to ensure that the social media platforms are playing their part and living up to their social and economic responsibilities in this area and every other area.

Journalist: James you were nodding there, have you spoken to the other platforms? What have those conversations been like and how much groundwork do you still need to do to get them on board?

James Roberts: Obviously I wouldn’t want to go into the depth of the bilaterals we’ve had with them. It is a new world of collaboration. I think the muscle of collaboration between multiple sectors, financial sector, telcos, and digital platforms is not something that’s at the minute well trained, but there is certainly expressions of hope and willingness to engage. I’d like to see the willingness translate to actual connectivity with the anti scams, that’s probably what I can say on that.

Journalist: What are we doing to train the more vulnerable people of our communities that fall victim of these scams? More and more branches are closing so they don’t have access to the banks any more?

Stephen Jones: Education is a part of the agenda and a part of the function of the National Anti Scam Centre, but we want to ensure that all businesses that are operating, particularly in the digital environment, are doing their bit to ensure they’re keeping their customers safe, and a part of that is education. The government’s got a role to play, banks have got a role to play, telecommunications companies and social media platforms have all got a role to play in this, this has to be a genuine Australia moment where we’re all doing our bit to keep Australian’s information and their money safe.

Journalist: So, will you be legislating penalties for companies that don’t abide by this new initiative?

Stephen Jones: When we introduce the new legislation later this year, it will be quite clear, focused on the key players within the ecosystem: banks, telecommunications companies, social media platforms, we’ll nail that down and then extend that to other key players within the ecosystem. This is about ensuring people know clearly what their responsibilities are to keep their customers and their networks safe. If they fail to meet those responsibilities and somebody loses money, then liability will follow.

Journalist: One for David if I could. What’s the latest data showing us how much Australians are losing to scams and what the most common scams?

David Pegley, Managing Director, AFCX: Unfortunately, the trend we’re seeing has sort of flattened a bit, hopefully we’ve got more activity going on through this type of collaboration which will continue to drive it down but it’s safe to recognise that as a business model for the criminal networks it is a pretty good economic outcome. So I think it’s as the minister said, it’s too early to pop the champagne corks, obviously the largest losses are still in the investment scam space although increasingly a lot of e-commerce online is causing problems and there’s a large tick up in that, but the modus operandi is changing constantly and where we close one bolt hole the next one pops up.

Journalist: And is that in terms of how victims are being contacted? Text messages, emails, just being bombarded?

David Pegley: Yeah that’s moving around as well. So we’re, James mentioned, we started the proof of concept looking at impersonated telephone numbers, that then dropped off and then URL started picking up, and I think as the different means of contacting consumers changes and they get blocked or knocked down, then they’re switch.

Journalist: Do you have the latest numbers at all in terms of how much people are losing?

David Pegley: I think the last report that the National Anti Scam Centre put out would be the most current.

Journalist: Will you be legislating against third party data sales?

Stephen Jones: I’ll come to that question, but if I can just deal with some of those data points, year before last $3 billion was last in scams last year we anticipated if the trend over the last decade had continued then that 3 billion would have gone to $6 billion. Because it was doubling every year. We were delighted to see that as a result of the efforts of the banks the telcos the government we saw scam losses come down and in the last calendar year $2.75 billion off the $3 billion the year before. Now I want you to all say OK it’s good that it didn’t double, but $2.75 billion is still a lot of money. Far too much money. And behind every one of those dollars is a tragedy I speak to the victims every week and behind those billions of dollars is somebody who has lost their life savings. There are personal tragedies between each and every one of those stories so we won’t stop until we have reduced that number even further again.

Journalist: Once again, so third party data sales of private information when you sign up to a website, they on sell that information. Will you be legislating that can no longer happen?

Stephen Jones: We’ve got a couple of things underway on this particular issue at the moment. Mark Dreyfus is leading the privacy act review with legislative reforms to be introduced into parliament later this year. Important job of work. I’m looking at digital platforms more broadly and what additional powers we might need to provide to our regulator so that regulators can take on some of the nefarious and less than opaque activities that are going on in these digital platforms. Thanks very much everyone.

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