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New SMS scam rules: Are they enough to stop the barrage of texts?


Telcos will face fines for failing to comply with the new rules.

The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) has announced new rules that will require telcos to:

  • Identify, track and block SMS scams
  • Share information with other providers
  • Report scams to authorities

Companies could be fined up to $250,000 for failing to follow the new rules. It's all part of an effort to reduce the number of scam text messages being sent to Australians each year.

The cost of scams in Australia

The ACMA move comes when the cost of SMS scams is on the rise.

The latest Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) Scamwatch data shows that collectively, SMS scams cost Australians over $6.5 million this year so far. That's an increase of 188% compared to losses of $2.3 million in the same period last year.

SMS scams account for around 32% of all scams reported this year to date.

ACMA chair Nerida O'Loughlin said, "SMS scams can be highly sophisticated and have devastating financial and emotional impacts for victims. In some circumstances, scammers can take a person's life savings and cause profound ongoing distress."

"We shouldn't have to screen messages and adopt workaround behaviours to be able to feel safe and stay connected," she added.

Will these new rules help stop the SMS scams?

Completely? No. But they may curb scammers' appetites for texting you nonstop each week.

Industry code changes that ACMA made in 2020 have already helped reduce the annual number of scam calls.

Scamwatch data shows that reports of phone call scams were down in 2022 by nearly 50%, with just 27,935 reports between January and May compared to 53,227 in the same period in 2021.

ACMA also says these new rules will complement others that just came into effect. These require telcos to use multi-factor ID checks for customer interactions commonly targeted by scammers, such as account changes and SIM swap requests.

So what are telcos doing?

While the rule changes will now force companies to make sure they're actively disrupting scam activities on their networks, many have already been working behind the scenes.

Optus regulatory and public affairs vice president Andrew Sheridan said, "[We have] implemented a series of anti-scam measures in recent years allowing us to block millions of fraudulent calls and text messages daily. We continue to upgrade and enhance our capabilities to protect our customers."

"Improving industry collaboration will provide greater protections for Australians," added Sheridan.

Last week, Telstra's cyber security executive Narelle Devine announced that Telstra had blocked more than 185 million malicious texts after implementing new network features in April.

Devine said, "Messages blocked have included lures to install malware on your device, invitations to hand over your personal details to scammers and impersonation scams requesting financial data."

A TPG/Vodafone spokesperson said, "Vodafone has proactively worked with ACMA, Communications Alliance and the telco industry to develop and implement the new industry scam code to better protect all Australians. We continue to be a leader in blocking scam calls and preventing fraudulent porting to keep our customers safe and connected."

How can I keep myself safe from SMS scammers?

While the new ACMA rules mean telcos need to take a more active approach to stop SMS scams in the first place, it's still a good idea to take the following precautions:

  • Don't pick up the phone if you don't know who's calling. Let the caller go to voicemail. If they leave a number, you can check if it matches a real business online.
  • Don't reply to or click links in text messages. These could sign you up for services you don't want or link to viruses and others.
  • Read text messages carefully. Poor grammar and spelling can be a giveaway that the SMS is fraudulent.
  • Never let someone take control of your device.
  • Never share personal details. That includes passwords or other sensitive information such as your date of birth or address.

The ACMA stresses that the number 1 rule to follow is: If in doubt, don't. If something doesn't feel right, don't follow through.

What do I do if I think I've been scammed?

If you think you've been a victim of an SMS or phone call scam, you should immediately contact your bank and phone company and file a report on Scamwatch. This enables the ACCC to advise government and law enforcement agencies to help stop scammers.

If you're concerned that your personal details may have been stolen, you can contact IDCARE.

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