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Transcript: Assistant Treasurer launches National Anti-Scams Centre

Transcript: Assistant Treasurer launches National Anti-Scams Centre

7 November 2022

The Hon Stephen Jones MP Assistant Treasurer and Minister for Financial Services announced funding for a new National Anti-Scams Centre on the first day of Scams Awareness Week, 7 November 2022. ABA CEO Anna Bligh joined the launch with other industry leaders.


STEPHEN JONES: It’s an important day. This is anti-scam week, National Scams Awareness Week, and it’s the week where the ACCC has traditionally attempted to raise awareness of the problems with scams and ensure that consumers are taking all steps necessary to protect themselves. As Delia is going to go through in a moment, over the last two years we’ve seen an explosion in scams. It picked up over the pandemic.

Over the last 12 months $2 billion worth of losses to scam activity, and we anticipate that over the next is it 12 months that number will double to $4 billion. When Australian households are doing it tough through enormous cost of living increases, to lose $2 billion through financial and economic crimes is more than anyone can bear.

More action needs to be taken. We know that we can’t do this alone, but we know that cooperation between government and within government, between government and the private sector is going to be absolutely essential to fighting the scourge of scams. It’s why today I’m delighted to announce that we’re taking the first step in our anti-scam policy. We’ll be establishing a national anti-scam centre through the ACCC to ensure that we can in real time have a coordinated and rapid response to scams that are moving their way through the economy.

“We’ll be establishing a national anti-scam centre through the ACCC to ensure that we can in real time have a coordinated and rapid response to scams that are moving their way through the economy.”

Assistant Treasurer Stephen Jones

This will be on top of the work that we have underway to put in place new codes of practice for telecommunications companies, with social media platforms, with financial organisations to ensure that we have a very high standard and expect a very high standard of consumer protection through all of those organisations and having those organisations working together, cooperating between themselves and with government to ensure that we can move rapidly, stop scams at source and when they are out there in the system that we are responding quickly to protect consumers.

Two billion dollars a year is a lot of money. Two billion dollars a year is being ripped out of households and small businesses. That is money that we can’t afford, and this government intends to take that issue seriously. I’ll now invite Delia to say a few words and then we’ll hand to some of our other organisations. Thanks.

DELIA RICKARD, ACCC DEPUTY CHAIR: Thanks, Minister, and hi everyone. As the Minister said, we lost 2 billion last year. When we add up all the losses reported to the ACCC, banks and other agencies next year, we suspect we’ll see that we lost about $4 billion to scams in 2022, which is just not okay. And because of these losses and the heightened concerns following the Optus breach and the Medibank breach, we’ve made the theme for this year’s scams week empowering consumers so that they can recognise and avoid scams.

“We’ve made the theme for this year’s scams week empowering consumers so that they can recognise and avoid scams.”

ACCC Deputy Chair, Delia Rickard

And there really are some simple red flags to watch out for which can help protect you. Be on the look out for anyone who sends you emails, messages with links in them. Just don’t click on those links. Anyone who’s asking for your personal details, your banking details, they’re going to be a scammer. Stay well away from them. Somebody wants remote access to your computer, that’s another sure-fire tip that it’s a scam. We want to empower people so that they can protect themselves as well as doing a whole range of disruption work that stops scammers reaching them in the first place.

So we’re encouraging everyone during this Scams Awareness Week to go to the ACCC’s website – scamwatch.gov.au – and look at the advice that’s there to help protect yourself from scams. And we’re doing this in conjunction with about 350 private sector, not-for-profit organisations who are all concerned about stopping the scourge of scams at the moment. Thank you.

ANNA BLIGH, AUSTRALIAN BANKING ASSOCIATION CEO: Every single hour of every single day Australian banks have financial crime squads that are working to intercept and stop and prevent scams ever getting to a customer. But we know that there are still scammers that get through. And the ability to fix those gaps and to close that net around scammers really needs a coordinated approach. It needs government, law enforcement, telcos, social media platforms, banks all working together as much in real time as possible. So this new scams centre will be very welcome. It’s required leadership, and I’m delighted to see the government putting real money into a national scam centre that I think will make a very big difference to the ability of Australia’s banks to protect their customers even further.

National Scams Awareness Week is a time for all of us to be aware that too many people are seeing terrible financial outcomes from criminals in cyber space. And taking the best measures we can to protect ourselves is important, but financial crime needs to be fought, and this scam centre will hopefully be a very important weapon in the fight against scams.

“We know that there are still scammers that get through. And the ability to fix those gaps and to close that net around scammers really needs a coordinated approach.”

ABA CEO Anna Bligh

ALAN KIRKLAND, CHOICE CEO: Australians are at more risk now than ever to scams as a result of the massive data breaches that we’ve seen from businesses such as Optus and Medicare. The Optus and Medicare data breaches mean that millions of Australians have had their data exposed on the dark web, available to scammers. Those scammers can use that data to pretend to be a business that you’ve already got a relationship with and use that to trick you into sending money or to steal your identity.

Scams have a massive human impact. It’s not just the impact of the literally billions of dollars that are lost that for individuals can mean their entire savings; it’s also the impact of having your identity compromised which can mean that you can be exposed to risk of further scams for years to come and the inconvenience of having to deal with that every time that you go to interact with a business. This requires a coordinated response, leadership from the government, a response across industry and community organisations. And that’s why we’re pleased to see the announcement of this national anti-scam centre.

“This is not a problem that individuals alone can fix. We can give good advice to individuals, but it requires a coordinated response from industry and community organisations with strong leadership from government.”

Choice CEO, Alan Kirkland

We also need businesses to lift their game. We still see far too many reports of people being contacted by text message or email by businesses with links in them when the best advice that we can give people is don’t click through on an email or a text message with a link. We see far too many reports of businesses calling people, asking them to provide identity details to verify their identity on the phone when the best advice that we can give is don’t hand over any of your identity information in a phone call that you have received. This is not a problem that individuals alone can fix. We can give good advice to individuals, but it requires a coordinated response from industry and community organisations with strong leadership from government, which is why we’re really pleased to see and welcome the establishment of this national anti-scam centre. Thanks.

TANIA CLARKE, CONSUMER ACTION LAW CENTRE DIRECTOR: Consumer Action Law Centre, community legal centres across Australia and also financial counsellors are talking to scam victims every week who are dealing with the losses caused by the scams, losing thousands of dollars and their livelihoods. And we often see the shame that this causes people. The Consumer Action Law Centre is calling for a higher bar, higher standards in consumer protections. We’re really pleased with this initiative today which sends a strong message that scams and scams in this country is being taken seriously.

“We’re really pleased with this initiative today which sends a strong message that scams and scams in this country is being taken seriously.”

Director Consumer Action Law Centre, Tania Clarke

STEPHEN JONES: Thanks so much, Tania, Alan, Anna and Delia. Now happy to take any questions.

JOURNALIST: I have a question for the Minister and for Anna Bligh. A lot of these scams, particularly the new wave of scams and hacks and all the rest, can’t happen without the setting up of new bank accounts, illegal bank accounts. Due to this wave of recent hacks, what more action are banks taking to prevent, you know, money being funnelled through them, and the banks doing enough, Minister?

STEPHEN JONES: Sure. We’ve got a job of work going on at the moment reviewing the privacy laws, and they are linked. We have concerns that you’re rightly raising about whether banks are doing enough to appropriately verify people when they’re establishing a new bank account. If there are gaps, we’ll look at it.

“a whole-of-economy problem needs a whole-of-government approach.”

Stephen Jones

We’ve also got concerns at the other end of the spectrum where people are saying, “Why do I have to give over my drivers licence and personal details to get into a pub? Why do I have to give my email address, my bank details and my phone number to order a cup of coffee at the cafe down the road? And when I do that, how is that information being stored?” So at every end of the chain we need to look at what’s going on, ask whether it’s necessary, why we are doing it, and if we must be taking information and storing it, how we’re storing it and for how long and how is that data going to be used?

So whether it’s at the Private Act end, a project being undertaken by the Attorney-General, whether it’s at the cyber security end, a project being undertaken by Clare O’Neil, whether it’s at the consumer end and the scams and the consumer fraud-facing problems that I’m dealing with as a part of the Treasury portfolio, this is a whole-of-government approach and a whole-of-economy problem needs a whole-of-government approach. I’ll invite Anna to add.



ANNA BLIGH: Thank you. Once upon a time banks kept our money safe by building cast iron vaults. But the bank robbers of the 21st century are usually operating in the cyber space. And that means that if you’re an internet banker – which more and more and more Australians every single day are doing their banking online, on their telephone, on their laptop, what it means is that Australian banks now have to invest significant amounts of money in keeping the data of their customers safe, keeping financial transactions safe and ensuring that they get hackers and scammers out of their networks as quickly as possible. Just like we never got rid of bank robbers, scammers and hackers are going to be part of the landscape.

That’s why banks are now investing literally billions of dollars every year in new technology, in very large financial crime teams to keep their customers safe. But this is a challenge to keep one step ahead of the scammers. Every time the banks find a scam and kill it, another one starts. And that’s why a centre like this I think is so important because it gives banks the opportunity in real time hopefully to work with law enforcement agencies, with telecommunications companies, with social media platforms, online payment platforms. And it’s that joining up of everybody that will keep customers as safe as possible.

“Australian banks now have to invest significant amounts of money in keeping the data of their customers safe, keeping financial transactions safe and ensuring that they get hackers and scammers out of their networks as quickly as possible. Just like we never got rid of bank robbers, scammers and hackers are going to be part of the landscape. “

Anna Bligh

JOURNALIST: Just what additional actions are banks taking in recent months just given this new wave of scams and hacks?

ANNA BLIGH: Banks have done a number of things. You know, firstly, they are literally investing millions and millions of dollars in new technology that helps them keep one step ahead of scams and hackers. They have been working as an industry to think through how to better protect customers and to ensure that where customers are entitled to some form of reimbursement that it’s really clear and that they get that.

We certainly look forward now to be working with government. Frankly, this is an issue that just hasn’t had any leadership. We’ve struggled to find people in governments at a national level to take an interest. To have this now front and centre I think gives an opportunity not just for banks but for corporate Australia to start working together in a way that hasn’t really been possible. And I endorse the minister’s comments on the privacy legislation.

One of the reasons why so many companies have so much information is they’re often required by law to keep it for many, many years. And I think there’s some good thinking that needs to happen within government as well about how long do companies really need to keep data and how do they really need to establish that they’ve done what needed to be done to prove your identity. And then if they’ve done that, how long do they really need to keep your – the backup data. So, it’s a new world, and when the privacy laws were written they weren’t written for this world. And this review I think should make some real difference.

“One of the reasons why so many companies have so much information is they’re often required by law to keep it for many, many years. And I think there’s some good thinking that needs to happen within government as well about how long do companies really need to keep data and how do they really need to establish that they’ve done what needed to be done to prove your identity.”

Anna Bligh


STEPHEN JONES: Any other questions?

JOURNALIST: Just one for – another one for Ms Bligh, if we can. Just a broader one about the economy: with many people struggling with mortgage stress, is there anything the banking sector could be doing to help, maybe waiving fees, anything along those lines?

ANNA BLIGH: As interest rates rise it’s no doubt that there will be some customers who find it very hard to meet those payments. Australia’s banks are very aware of that, and just as they did during Covid, they stand ready to work with customers on a one – on a case-by-case basis. And there are many practical things that a bank can do. They can put you on to a new mortgage contract with lower costs in very difficult – if you’re in difficult circumstances they can defer payments for a period of time, waive fees, restructure loans.

“And I really encourage anyone who is struggling to make payments on a mortgage to be talking to their bank as early as they possibly can. I am pleased to say that at the moment banks are not seeing any increase at all in their mortgage default rates. In fact, they’re actually lower than they were prior to COVID.”

Anna Bligh

And I really encourage anyone who is struggling to make payments on a mortgage to be talking to their bank as early as they possibly can. I am pleased to say that at the moment banks are not seeing any increase at all in their mortgage default rates. In fact, they’re actually lower than they were prior to COVID. But, as every interest rate rise hits that’s going to be more difficult for some customers. So as early as you can possibly talk to your bank the better it is and the more the bank is likely to be able to help.

STEPHEN JONES: Thanks very much. And if I can just say, when I’m asked what the objective of all of these things are – we want to make Australia the least favoured destination for international scammers and the hardest place in the world for domestic scammers to ply their evil trade. That’s our objective, and that’s what we’re going to get on with. Thanks so much.



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