ACMA proposes three-point action plan to crack down on phone scams

Immediate action to trial a 'Do Not Originate' list is already underway.

The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) has put forward a three-point action plan in its newly released Combating Scams: Actions Plan report in a move to fight phone scams.

Under the plan, the ACMA has proposed for a joint government-industry taskforce to be established to oversee strategies around how to minimise phone scams; for new enforceable obligations for the telco sector to be established; and for trials of new scam reduction initiatives to begin immediately.

Chair of the Scam Project Fiona Cameron said the plan has been developed as a result of industry and government coming together to share information following the review of international best practice and actions.

"It is very pleasing to see our project has spurred on significant scam reduction activities across the sector. In one case a telco provider blocked nearly 3 million scam calls in one month," she said.

"Scammers are agile and relentless, there is no silver bullet that will put a stop to all their activities, however a quick adoption of the Combating Scams Action Plan will ensure the sector remains vigilant."

In its report, the ACMA revealed the first trial is currently under way, involving the testing of a 'Do Not Originate' (DNO) list that requires telcos to identify and block calls that appear to come from well-known Australian organisations but are actually made by scammers.

The DNO list trial is being carried out in conjunction with the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) to block scam calls using caller ID to verify if the calls are safe numbers from the organisation.

See also: How to enable spam call filtering on your Android phone (TechRepublic)

Meanwhile, the second and third trials to commence from Q1 2020 will involve identifying and blocking the Wangiri call-back scam calls, which are typically high-volume, short duration calls that require a call back, and blocking traffic from providers carrying a high-volume of scam traffic.

"Effective scam reduction at an industry-wide level can only be achieved through industry and regulators working together to develop improved processes and infrastructure that support appropriate sharing of scam data and referral for regulatory or law enforcement action," the ACMA wrote.

Some of the specific recommendations the ACMA made as part of its proposal to see enforceable obligations for telco providers be developed included for scam call data to be shared across industry; verify, trace, and block scam calls; prevent carriage of domestic originating calls where the caller does not hold the rights of use to the number; minimise carriage of international originating calls using illegitimate calling line identification; refer scam calls and/or perpetrators to authorities, implement and update SMS filtering technology; monitor broader technological development and international initiatives for potential implementation; and provide advice and information to customers to assist them to manage scams.

The ACMA added the use of technology such as real-time call analytics combined with call blocking can also significantly minimise carriage of illegitimate international traffic.

These actions put forward by the ACMA have been signed off by Minister for Communications and Cyber Safety Paul Fletcher.

"For too long, scammers have been targeting Australians. At the very least, they have been creating a major inconvenience, by harassing us over the phone, email, and internet. At worst, they have caused victims significant emotional and financial hardship," said Fletcher.

"If criminals are using technology to scam Australians, we will use technology to fight back."

Read more: RoboKiller v. Nomorobo: Which robocall blocker should iOS users choose? (TechRepublic)

Shadow Minister for Communications Michelle Rowland meanwhile took the opportunity to criticise the government's steps to enforce these obligations on telcos, accusing them of being too slow.

"The ACCC reports losses to scams will exceed a record AU$532 million by the end of 2019. This alone highlights the industrial scale laziness of this three-term Liberal government when it comes to tackling telephone scams," she said.

"Australians expect strong and timely action to keep them safe -- yet the rudimentary steps and trials outlined today could have been commenced years ago."

The release of the action plan is part of the Scam Technology Project, which kicked off in December last year. Led by the ACMA, the project is designed to see the communications watchdog work with telco companies to develop technology-based solutions to combat telco-related scams, including mobile number fraud.

In October, the federal government announced new telco regulations in a move to prevent fraudsters from hijacking mobile numbers to access personal and financial information, and reduce phone scams.

Under the industry-wide measures, telcos are required to introduce two-factor authentication, such as inputting a code on a website or responding to a text message, before mobile numbers can be transferred from one provider to another.

The ACMA has been given a deadline of April next year to ensure that all telcos meet the industry standard. 

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