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ACCC’s new 3-step plan to stop malicious cyber actors from targeting Australia

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has proposed a “three-pronged approach” to ensure Australia will no longer be an attractive target for cyber criminals.

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Wed, 20 Jul 2022
ACCC’s new 3-step plan to stop malicious cyber actors from targeting Australia
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In a keynote address to the Law Council of Australia's 2022 Consumer Rights Forum, Gina Cass-Gottlieb, current chair of the ACCC and former competition lawyer, revealed the new three-step plan that the ACCC will be undertaking to enhance operations designed to disrupt and prevent scams.

"First, we need to stop scammers reaching consumers by disrupting the means by which they contact would-be victims – whether through phone calls, SMS, email, social media.

"Second, we need to better educate consumers so that if a scam contact makes it through to them, they are able to recognise it as a scam.


"Finally, we need measures in place so that if a consumer is convinced to attempt to transfer funds to a scammer, there is a safety net there to prevent this from happening," Cass-Gottlieb said.

Referring to the release of the ACCC's annual Targeting Scams report earlier this month, Cass-Gottlieb outlined the impactful results the ACCC, along with other agencies that include ASIC, ACMA and the AFP, have achieved in combating scams over the past year, leading with the ACCC-led approach aimed at "minimising the impact of the FluBot scam".

"We engaged with banks and the telecommunications sector, we worked with the Australian Cyber Security Centre and their partners and we shared the scam reports about FluBot with the Australian Federal Police.

"In June 2022, the EU announced international police cooperation including the AFP was successful in taking down the FluBot criminal infrastructure.

"The persistent texts ended as suddenly as they had arrived," Cass-Gottlieb added.

Today, Cass-Gottlieb remains focused on advancing the winning momentum in the battle against scams, noting that in 2021, Aussies lost almost $1.8 billion in combined scam losses according to data from financial organisations, other government agencies, ReportCyber and Scamwatch.

"Once we consider the fact that about a third of scam victims don't report their losses, the real figure lost to scams in 2021 was well more than $2 billion.

"These figures are staggering and represent a severe financial impost.

"What can never be calculated, however, is the emotional toll and the life changing consequences that can result from these scams and their impacts on individuals, families, and businesses," Cass-Gottlieb added.

Combating scams has been an enormous effort by government, law enforcement, the private sector and community, according to the ACCC's Targeting Scams report, with the most vulnerable members of the community "reporting increasingly high losses".

The ACCC data has revealed Indigenous Australians, older Australians, people from culturally and linguistically diverse communities, as well as people with disability, have lost "far more than ever before" to scams.

In her call to action to make "Australia the world's hardest scam target", Cass-Gottlieb asserted that a collaborative community effort is needed to disrupt and prevent scams from its ongoing prevalence, proposing that "stopping scammers from connecting with potential victims in the first place" is key to the new ACCC plan.

"We need to use technology and intelligence to disrupt the scammers before they can get to consumers.

"We are already seeing some success in the work of the ACMA, telecommunications industry and other agencies through the Reducing Scam Calls Code, which has led to a reduction in phone scam reports to the ACCC of more than 50 per cent in 2022.

"Across Australia, we are aware of 357 million scam calls being blocked in the first year of the Code’s introduction," Cass-Gottlieb said.

Acknowledging that progress had been made, making special mention of the telecommunications sector's efforts, Cass-Gottlieb stressed that more must be done, as enforcement action alone won't be enough to solve the scam problem.

"Scammers will always target the point of least resistance and so it is important that each carrier does its part to ensure all our international gateways are blocking known scam and spam traffic.

"We also encourage leaders in the telecommunications sector to share their approaches and successes with others in the industry to assist in making Australia the hardest target for scammers," Cass-Gottlieb further explained.

The ACCC and ASIC have partnered with UK-based company Netcraft to undertake an automated website takedown trial aimed at removing scam websites reported to the ACCC’s Scamwatch reporting website and to ASIC. According to Cass-Gottlieb, the UK's National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) has been using Netcraft's takedown service for almost five years.

"Over the past three weeks, we have submitted more than 300 malicious websites targeting Australians to the service, resulting in dozens of takedowns to date with dozens more pending.

"Many of these are phishing sites impersonating Australian businesses and government authorities, though others relate to puppy scams, shoe scams, cryptocurrency investment scams and tech support scams.

"We note industry codes are still being developed in many areas, but in any event, organisations should already be taking the following steps in relation to phishing scam prevention," Cass-Gottlieb said.

Following a sharp rise in the number of people losing money through cryptocurrency, Cass-Gottlieb's final point explained how the ACCC is aiming to tackle investment scams and payment method for scams moving forward. According to ACCC data, over $100 million has been reported lost to crypto investment scams.

"As with the telecommunications sector, we are seeing industry leaders emerge, creating best practices with a range of impressive scam-prevention initiatives.

"We've seen implementation of live-video verification that customers' match the photo identification documents, such as licences or passports, that they're providing as part of know your customer checks.

"We're seeing mandatory phone calls from company representatives to senior Australians opening accounts on cryptocurrency exchanges to ensure they are not being coached or scammed into transferring money to the exchange."

Emphasising it is a community effort to disrupt scammers, "so the losses don't occur in the first place", direct protection of consumers is Cass-Gottlieb's main priority as cyber attacks and scam activity continue to rise.

"It is very clear that the fight against scams is never-ending and ever-evolving.

"No sooner do we succeed in shutting down one scam than another springs up in its place.

"But I firmly believe that by bringing together government, consumer groups, the financial services sector and the telco sector, we can make Australia a much harder target for scammers and prevent not only the billions of losses that we have seen to date, but also the emotional devastation," Cass-Gottlieb concluded.

[Related: Cyber Security Minister Clare O’Neil cautions Aussies about ‘handing data over’ to social media corporations]

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