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Collaboration key to beating the SMS scammers

03:00pm April 24 2023

Australians lost an estimated $3.1 billion to scams in 2022, according to the consumer watchdog ACCC. (Getty)

Impersonation scams, where the target is sent a text message that pretends to be from a legitimate company like a bank or telco, or even a family member, are becoming increasingly popular with criminals and a collaborative response is required to defend against them. 

That’s why Westpac welcomes the federal government’s announcement that it will allocate $10 million in the May budget to create a Sender ID registry for companies and agencies that send text messages. 

Reports of scam text messages increased by 19 per cent last year, according to the ACCC, and SMS is now a more common way for the scammer to contact their potential victim than a phone call. 

The latest initiative from government creates another brick in the wall of the nation’s defence against scams.  

Once the system is established, legitimate senders will be able to log their Sender ID with the registry. Telecom providers will then be able to block messages from impersonators trying to use that Sender ID.

Westpac has been working hard to stamp out impersonation scams. In 2022, we partnered with Optus to become the first private Australian business to block calls from scammers impersonating the bank.

More than 94,000 Westpac phone numbers have now been added to a ‘Do Not Originate’ list, which prevents scammers from impersonating Westpac numbers. The list is also shared with other carriers to extend the protection across different networks.

We have hundreds of experts working around the clock and invest heavily in technology to prevent and detect potential scams, but notably, the scam prevention activities of individual companies are strengthened when we’re all working together. 

That’s why bodies like the new National Anti-Scams Centre are vital to facilitate collaboration and coordination in real time across banks, telcos, social media companies, law enforcement and government. 

Criminals go where they see opportunity, so we need to work together to keep putting obstacles in their way to make it harder for them to commit their crimes in Australia. 

We’re making progress: Westpac is saving customers more than $215 million in potential scam losses annually through new functions such as Westpac Verify – which alerts customers if there is a potential account name mis-match for payments to a new BSB and account number. 

The bank detects and prevents around 60 per cent of all scams, and we continue to expand and enhance our detection and prevention capabilities.

But there’s always more to do, as demonstrated by the ACCC’s annual scams report, published in April, which showed Australians lost an estimated $3.1 billion to scams in 2022 – an increase of 80 per cent on the previous year.

Harnessing technology to bolster our cyber defences has a key role to play, but just as important is raising awareness among the community about the risks and how to stay safe as we increasingly interact with companies and government services digitally.   

Our advice? Be wary of anyone asking you to share personal information (if in doubt, hang up and call back on a trusted, independently sourced number) and never provide personal details after clicking on a text message link. If this is a genuine request, the company should be supportive of you wanting to verify it.

Always do thorough due diligence on potential investments, and triple check payment details are legitimate before sending any money. And remember that banks will never ask you to transfer money to another account over the phone to ‘keep it safe’.

We look forward to working cooperatively with the Australian Communications and Media Authority on the development of the Sender ID Registry.

You can find out more about impersonation scams, and how to protect yourself from them, in this Scam Spot video from Westpac’s head of fraud and financial crime insights, Ben Young.  

Chris is General Manager, Financial Crime & Fraud Prevention at Westpac Group, with responsibility for the leadership and development of Westpac’s centralised 1st Line of Defence, Financial Crime capability. Prior to joining the Westpac Group, Chris was at KPMG for 30 years, being a partner for 18 years. Chris has diversified experience in the financial services industry across Asia, Australia, America and Europe having spent the last decade in Thailand and Hong Kong.

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