Federal government announces changes to combat scam texts

Telecommunications companies will soon be able to block scam text messages from being sent in the first place, thanks to regulatory changes by the government. 

An increase in malicious text messages in recent months has been described as a “tsunami”, with the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) receiving tens of thousands of reports of scams.

Australians have lost more than $87 million to scams this year.

Having stepped in to block more than 200 million scam phone calls pretending to be from government agencies, the federal government is now paving the way to make it easier for telcos to block malicious text messages at their source.

“[In] a further step to deal with the problem of scam texts … what we again want to do is make sure the telcos have the power to use their technologies to identify and block these texts before customers even realise they’re there,” communications minister Paul Fletcher said.

“The fact is we’re dealing with organised criminals, mostly located overseas, who are pumping out calls and texts.

“They’re using technology. We need to use technology to combat what they’re doing.”

Telstra CEO Andy Penn said that technology included algorithms and artificial intelligence.

“We’re already blocking hundreds of thousands of [text messages],” he said.

“What this initiative does is it enables us to get a much richer set of data — much better access to the data we need to use with our algorithms and artificial intelligence engines — to better identify those [messages] which are malicious.

“That’s the name of the game.”

Many of the scam texts Australians have been receiving claim to be unopened voicemail notifications, with a link to download the ‘voicemail’.

Mr Penn said the sheer volume of messages that were sent around the country meant detecting scams could only be done using technology.

“As you can imagine, there are billions, if not trillions, of transactions and [text messages] and calls going across telecommunications networks every year. And what we have to do is try and sift through that and identify those that are malicious and block them at their source,” he said.

“That can’t be done manually. We need to use computer technology, we need to use artificial intelligence.”

Labor recently called on telcos, as well as banks and retailers, to change how they communicated with customers so it was clear when they were sending legitimate messages or making legitimate calls.

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