SUBJECTS: Telephone scams.
TIM SHAW: Have you ever been the victim of a phone scam? Now, last year Australians lost nearly half a billion dollars to scammers, and according to the ACCC we've already lost more than 16 million dollars this year alone to identity theft and the loss of personal information. Now, Shadow Communications Minister Michelle Rowland says it's time to tackle the problem, and I'm very interested to know what some of the proposed solutions are from the Shadow Minister. She joins me on the line now from Parliament House. Michelle Rowland, welcome back to 2CC. Why are we losing so much money to scammers?
MICHELLE ROWLAND, SHADOW MINISTER FOR COMMUNICATIONS: Well, one of the reasons is, Tim, I mean scams unfortunately are not new, but what we see now is we've gone from scams going to new technologies, you might remember around the time email first started, I think that's when the first scams sort of started where you had people purporting to be an exiled Nigerian prince...
ROWLAND: ...asking you to deposit a certain amount of money and I think we got wise to that, but our systems also developed very good mechanisms for filtering. So now we don't get the same amount of spam that we used to. We've got laws around that as well. Now we're seeing scammers move into one of the oldest technologies: plain old voice communications. And what they're doing is something called malicious call spoofing, and it's where a network indicates to the receiver of a call that the call is coming from somewhere else. Now to put that a bit plainer: someone overseas, say in Eastern Europe for example, could be using a device or some software to generate a call and make it look like, to someone receiving the call in Canberra, that it's also coming from Canberra. So if you see that number come up on your phone, you're far more likely to answer it and that's when the scammers get their foot in the door, and unfortunately we've had people lose hundreds of thousands of dollars in some instances to scammers.
SHAW: Who's teaching them? This is like the acting craft in my view, Michelle Rowland, that once we have been fooled into taking that call there must be some very talented men and women on the other end of the phone convincing Australians to part with their hard-earned dollars. Who's behind it? Who are behind it? Is it international criminal gangs? Is it state interventions? Tell us who you believe are responsible for it.
ROWLAND: Well, it's a mix I believe, Tim, and I also believe that we've got law enforcement agencies, we have some of the best in the world here in Australia, but they would be looking into this very carefully. But what I do know is they are smart. They take advantage of certain types of events. One example is the rollout of the National Broadband Network. We've had a proliferation of scams to do with the NBN: people being called being told that if they don't provide certain personal details their broadband will get cut off, purporting to be from other telco providers, at tax time they purport to be from the ATO, and their threats are very real. And the people who fall for these threats are not dumb people. They are smart people who are fooled by con artists who are very good at what they do.
SHAW: Yeah. You've been across this for a very long time and I know you are deeply concerned. It's a matter for Labor to want to bring this to Government. Paul Fletcher's the new Minister for Communications, only newly minted in the Morrison Government in that role. What's Paul Fletcher told you and what are you asking the Government to do now?
ROWLAND: Well, we are pleased that there is now, through the regulator, the Communications and Media Authority, they have on foot a project to look at some practical solutions. Now, this was started in December last year. They released some terms of reference earlier this year. A preliminary examination is due sometime this month even, and a final report by December. My concern, considering the number of people from my own electorate, Tim, and people right around Australia who've contacted me, is we don't want this report to be done and then just sit on a shelf. There needs to be some action. It's an issue of genuine concern to Australians. Just as you said, half a billion dollars being lost in scams. We have to do something about it.
SHAW: Have you ever received a scam call yourself?
ROWLAND: I've seen numbers come up on my mobile that identified as being from countries where I don't know anyone and wouldn't think to take the call. Say, sometimes they're from Eastern European countries again. These scammers have even moved beyond that too, and I don't answer the call, and I make sure I tell everyone just don't answer the call. But that's the unfortunate thing about how these scammers have moved into spoofing calls. You know, I actually find it quite perplexing that anyone anywhere in the world can generate a phone call masquerading as my landline number.
It is incredible, but in the UK and in the US, for example, they have initiated some very promising schemes, and you can't abolish scams completely, but you can help to dilute some of that impact through some of the technology that's being developed.
SHAW: Yeah, look stay in touch with us, because I feel that this is going to get worse before it gets better. We know our law enforcement are encouraging people: don't send any money to anybody and if in doubt talk to a family member. I get deeply concerned, as I know you do in your electorate, about older Australians being exploited by this. What's your message to Canberrans listening now about, you know, the challenges. That phone rings, it can be a sinister individual at the end of the line. What's your message to them, Michelle Rowland?
ROWLAND: Well, there are two things I would suggest. Firstly is, no reputable organisation is going to ask for your personal or financial details over the phone. They are going to give you a number that you can call. They're going to send you emails. You need to verify who these people are before you give over any information. And it is so rare that your bank or the NBN, for example, would simply ring you up. And unfortunately, it's almost a form of grooming, it's over a period of time where they gain that sort of confidence so that you're more ready to give information. But you don't have to answer these calls. You don't need to give your personal information to these people, and I think above all else, because this is all about money, you always should check with a reputable financial adviser whom you trust. The number of scam cases where people have been groomed, as I've just described, and given over money, made deposits, only to find that they have been completely fleeced. It could have been avoided if they had gone to a reputable financial adviser.
So, really I cannot emphasise enough to exercise caution. In some cases it will mean a bit of disruption, because you're not going to answer a call, and people might say I've been calling you and you haven't been answering your phone. I'd rather that happen than people get ripped off. And also many companies write to customers indicating they would never call them and ask them for their personal information. So be aware of that from institutions like your bank or your insurer or your telco provider.
SHAW: Thanks so much for your time this afternoon. Take care. Good afternoon.
SHAW: Thank you, Michelle Rowland, Shadow Minister for Communications.