ACMA deals Sportsbet with the largest fine ever issued for spam offences in Australia

Sportsbet is expected to pay AU$2.5 million for the infringement notice and refund AU$1.2 million to customers who lost their money as a result of its unlawful spam activities.
Written by Aimee Chanthadavong, Contributor

The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) has hit Sportsbet with a fine of AU$2.5 million, the biggest ever issued in Australia for spam offences.

In its investigation, the ACMA found that between January 2020 and March 2021, the gambling provider sent more than 150,000 marketing messages and emails to over 37,000 consumers who had tried to unsubscribe, and over 3,000 marketing texts that had no unsubscribe function.

The messages offered incentives to consumers to place bets or contained alerts about upcoming races, the ACMA said.

"We received complaints from people stating they were experiencing gambling-related problems and were trying to manage the issue by unsubscribing from Sportsbet's promotions," ACMA Chair Nerida O'Loughlin said.

"Sportsbet's failures in this matter had the real potential to contribute to financial and emotional harm to these people and their families."

She added that when the ACMA was alerted of these messages, it contacted Sportsbet on "several occasions" in the lead up to the investigation, but said the gambling provider "failed to take adequate action".

"Sportsbet is a large and sophisticated company which should have robust systems in place to comply with spam laws and protect the interests of its customers," O'Loughlin said.

In addition to the infringement notice, the regulator has also accepted a three-year court-enforceable undertaking from Sportsbet, which will see the company refund around AU$1.2 million to customers who lost money on bets associated with the spam.

The undertaking also requires Sportsbet to appoint an independent arbiter to oversee the compensation program, and an independent consultant to review its procedures, policies, training and systems, and implement recommendations from the audit.

"We will be actively monitoring Sportsbet's compliance and the commitments it has made to the ACMA," O'Loughlin said.

Elsewhere, the Communications Alliance is seeking public comment on what it is calling a "strengthened" draft Anti-Scam Industry Code to target scam SMS messages as well as phone calls.

Under the revised code, the telco industry body has proposed that it features improved tracing and reporting measures, and a new section dealing with the identification, tracing, and blocking of numbers associated with SMS scams.

"Scam texts account for around 20% of all network-based scam activity and these new tools will help service providers fight what is a distressful scourge on Australian consumers," Communications Alliance CEO John Stanton said.

"This type of fraud may see consumers being asked to click on a link or call back a 1800 number. With more consumers having worked from home and receiving home deliveries, scammers have taken to sending messages impersonating messages from delivery companies and enticing consumers to click on fraudulent web links.

"We've all received them -- they are annoying, but also dangerous if the consumer falls for the ruse."

The new provisions would build on the existing enforceable C661: Reducing Scam Calls Code, registered in 2020 by the ACMA, that forces Australian telcos to detect, trace, and block spam calls.

The rules apply not just to calls originating on a telco's network, but also to those transiting the network.

Under the code, carriers are required to look for characteristics of scam calls, share information with other telcos and regulators, block numbers being used for scams including those from overseas, and take measures to combat number spoofing.

Communications Alliance said, under the existing code, industry has already blocked more than 350 million scam calls to Australians.

The draft code will remain open for the public until 11 March 2022, after which the Communications Alliance would use the feedback to produce a final draft code and submit it to the ACMA for consideration for registration.

At the end of last year, the federal government announced it would amend telecommunications legislation to provide telcos with the ability to block scam SMS messages

The changes entail amending the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Act 1979 (TIA Act) so that telcos can intercept malicious SMS messages to be able to block them.  

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