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Anna Bligh interview with Mark Levy (2GB Syd) on scams, cyber security, bank branches

12 April 2023

MARK LEVY: Now we’ve been speaking about scams for a while now. Because it seems like every day we’re hearing about a new one: dodgy text messages, fake phone calls or suspicious emails. They’re everywhere. People are falling victim all too often. And they’re losing thousands of dollars in the process. The statistics around these scams are staggering. In the 12 months to February, the ACCC received 256,000 complaints. That’s about 21,000 every month, and in total, more than $500 million was lost. Just think about that for a moment. That’s more than half a billion dollars down the drain. As technology evolves, so too do these scams, they’re becoming more sophisticated. And that’s why the Australian Banking Association is getting on the front foot. They’ve launched a new campaign to combat online scams, and they’re putting the people behind them on notice. Anna Bligh, the CEO of the Australian Banking Association is on the line for us. Anna good morning to you. 

ANNA BLIGH: Good morning, Mark. How are you? 

MARK LEVY: I’m very well, thank you. Good to talk to you, as always. Half a billion dollars lost to scams in the 12 months to February. That’s a staggering figure. 

ANNA BLIGH: You’re absolutely right. And the tragedy is, that’s the half a billion that got reported to the ACCC. I think we can all understand that there are many people who don’t report it or don’t know where to report it. So I think we can certainly understand that there is more than that being lost. And that’s why it’s such a terrible issue. It’s something that we all need to work hard to combat. 

MARK LEVY: And those scams are becoming more and more sophisticated, aren’t they Anna? It’s getting harder to tell what’s real and what’s actually fake. 

“These are very sophisticated, very well resourced international criminal gangs. They have whole call centres of people whose job is to spend every waking minute of the day trying to get money out of your account, trying to trick you into transferring money out of the country.”

ABA CEO, Anna Bligh on scammers

ANNA BLIGH: Yes, I think sometimes people think that the scammers are a 17 year old amateur sitting in his garage with a laptop. And there is a bit of that, but increasingly, these are very sophisticated, very well resourced international criminal gangs. They have whole call centres of people whose job is to spend every waking minute of the day trying to get money out of your account trying to trick you into transferring money out of the country. And you’re right, they’re getting better at it. They’re using our telecommunication systems in new and clever ways. And that’s why it’s important that not only the telecommunication systems, and the banks and the government and the law enforcement agencies are doing everything they can to keep them out. It’s also important that we as individuals stop and think that if it sounds wrong, if it just doesn’t feel right then it’s probably not right. One of the things they’re very clever at is creating a sense of urgency, making you feel I’ve got to do it now or the money’s going to be drained out of my account. The best thing to do in those circumstances is just stop, take a breath and think because your bank will never ever call you and tell you to transfer money out of your account. 

MARK LEVY: You’re so right. Better to err on the side of caution. That’s for sure. Now, the Australian Banking Association is launching this new campaign. There’ll be ads warning us what to look out for in with these scams. You may have heard one playing this morning, actually, for our listeners on 2GB and Sydney. How will this all work, Anna? 

ANNA BLIGH: Well, I think what we’re trying to do with these ads is give people just very practical information to help them protect themselves from these very sophisticated scammers. There are some very clear messages. As I said, one, your bank will never call you and tell you to transfer money out of an account. So if someone is telling you to do that, someone’s called you and said, ‘Oh, I work for your bank, and you’re the subject of a fraud. And you’ve got to quickly transfer this money out right now’ – it’s not your bank, take a breath. Think about it. It’s a scammer. If you see something that says it’s going to make you money – you’ve got your superannuation retirement funds, and you see an ad or someone rings you and says they’ve got a great investment scheme where you can earn 20 or 25% on your money. If it sounds like it’s not quite true, it probably isn’t. And these investment scams are really bad. They’re targeting people’s life savings. Really make sure that if you’re putting money into an investment, make sure that they’re real, make sure that they’re registered, find out what their license [number] is. 

MARK LEVY: I’ve got to say this though, Anna, and I sort of sit back and hear what you’re saying. And it seems to me that it’s always the consumers. It’s always the consumers that need to keep an eye out for these things. And it’s always the responsibility of consumers. What about the banks? Because, you know, that’s only one side of the coin. When we talk about consumers, what are banks doing to stop the scammers and do they need to be doing more? 

ANNA BLIGH: You’re absolutely right. Consumers are only one part of the story. An important part. And we’re trying to give them some very helpful information to protect themselves. But that’s only one part of the story. Banks, our telecommunications companies, our online platforms – because let’s face it, these scammers they find you through your phone, they find you when you’re online – law enforcement agencies, intelligence agencies… everybody is part of that puzzle. We need to be doing more all the time because you know what? The scammers are doing more 

“Just to give you a sense of the size of this issue, one of our major banks recently did a calculation, and on average, they are repelling, that is stopping, 600 million attempts every single year to get into their system.”

ABA CEO, Anna Bligh on cyber security

MARK LEVY: Exactly. Hey, before I let you go, Anna I’m running out of time here, I just want to tackle another couple of things as well. And I’m glad you’ve conceded this isn’t all about consumers. It’s about the banks as well. Cyber war games. Now, the federal government has announced a program to combat cyber attacks on large businesses, they’re bringing together banks and financial services to practice their responses to future breaches. They’re being dubbed the cyber war games, is this something you support? 

ANNA BLIGH: Totally, just to give you a sense of the size of this issue, one of our major banks recently did a calculation, and on average, they are repelling, that is stopping, 600 million attempts every single year to get into their system. So that gives you just a sense of this, what bank systems are protecting us from. That’s 600 million scams and cyber attacks that you never saw. But there’s always more to be done. What we’ve been talking about just now is scammers who are trying to get your money. What the Department of Home Affairs is wanting to do, is to make sure that where we might have terrorist groups or enemy states that want to use the banking and finance system to actually bring the country to its knees, that we know how we would respond. When I say we, that’s the banking industry, the government, defence, intelligence agencies, etc. So this is a different way of thinking about national security. And it’s really about understanding that now that we’re all, not all but most of us are banking somewhere in the digital world. It wouldn’t be that hard for somebody with a lot of ill intent towards our nation to bring the whole system to a halt. 

MARK LEVY: All right, and it’s worth pointing out too I mean, we’re talking about banking, that bank closures are something affecting people as well. Major banks have come under fire for closing hundreds of them across the country, 92 have shut up shop since September, and the number of ATMs has halved so I wouldn’t have thought that’s customer service at a time where people need to actually talk to people rather than log on to the internet and do that sort of thing as well. 20 seconds quick response. 

“Robbers don’t come with a sawn off shotgun anymore. They come through your phone, and banks are putting their resources where their customers are. And that’s in the digital world.”

ABA CEO, Anna Bligh on bank branches

ANNA BLIGH: Well, what we’ve got is more and more customers voting with their feet, doing their banking online, and banks need to put their resources into cyber security, scam protection, keeping you safe online. Robbers don’t come with a sawn off shotgun anymore. They come through your phone, and banks are putting their resources where their customers are. And that’s in the digital world. 

MARK LEVY: All right, Anna Bligh, thank you so much for your time this morning. It’s certainly a big issue, and it’s affecting 1000s and 1000s of Australians. Thanks for the chat.  

ANNA BLIGH:  Thanks Mark  

MARK LEVY:  Anna Bligh, the CEO of the Australian Banking Association 

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