Labor offers anti-scam hub, calls for crackdown on social media companies profiting from fraud

What seems like a long time ago, the sound of a ringing phone inspired warm feelings at the thought of a friend or family member on the other end of the phone.

Nowadays, the buzzing in your bag or pocket only inspires annoyance and eye rolling when you see an unknown number flashing on the screen.

The rate of fraudulent phone calls has skyrocketed during the pandemic, with criminals seeking to exploit vulnerable and isolated people, often using bogus package delivery notifications or threatening calls from suspected government agencies.

Scammers stole $ 851 million from Australians last year, a record amount according to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.

The number of phishing scams – where an official-looking message from a seemingly trustworthy source is used to steal financial information – has increased by 75% during the pandemic.

Labor wants center of ‘scambusters’, crackdown on social media companies

In response to the record-breaking fraud, the federal opposition is proposing a national anti-scam center to fight what it calls a “scam” of online and telephone scammers.

Stephen Jones, the shadow minister for financial services, said bringing law enforcement, banks, social media and telecommunications companies together under one tent would allow them to quickly spot and block scammers.

“People are tired of getting an hourly text message or a phone call from a fake number pretending to be a government agency, pretending to be a telecommunications company or a utility,” Jones said.

“This kind of things [to combat scammers] have been set up abroad. There’s no reason we can’t do it in Australia. “

Mr Jones spoke of similar agencies that had been set up in the UK and Canada that brought together government, banks, investigators and intelligence agencies to tackle fraudsters exploiting the public health crisis by sharing data and tracking criminals in real time.

Phantom Assistant Treasurer Stephen Jones
Stephen Jones says the government has been too slow to catch crooks and social media companies are too lax.(ABC News)

But the shadow financial services minister said social media companies should also be held accountable for taking advantage of the opportunity for crooks to advertise on their sites.

“I just think it’s unreasonable if you have social media companies that know there is a practice going on that is either dangerous or illegal that they allow it to continue and, worse yet, take advantage of it. ‘money,’ Mr Jones said.

“We would like to do this by first cooperating through new codes of conduct. Bring them into the tent by involving them in the new anti-scam center.

He said Labor would also consider reforming the law to give telecommunications companies more power to intercept and block scammers, if current laws were found to be insufficient.

The back of the head of a person wearing a computer headset and using a computer.
Mr Jones says crooks see Australia as an easy target.(ABC News: Giulio Saggin)

An investigation into COVID-related fraud earlier this year learned from several agencies that fraud had increased exponentially during the pandemic.

But the Home Office maintained the increase was only modest, and police and intelligence agencies said much of the increase was unrelated to COVID-19.

Australian Federal Police have said crooks are becoming more advanced and innovative with their techniques, although the pandemic has provided a ripe opportunity for exploitation, with many more people turning to online shopping, some for the first time.

The Home Office said it was developing a new national framework for detecting and responding to cybercrime, as well as working with the National Australia Bank to develop new anti-fraud measures.

But Mr Jones said the government has been too slow to block crooks from vulnerable Australians.

“As long as they’ve done anything, they’re treating it as a national security issue, not as something that affects moms and dads and small businesses,” he said.

“And frankly, it drives people crazy.”

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