Labor takes fight to scammers after Australians lost $3.1 billion last year

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Assistant Treasurer Stephen Jones has signalled that social media giants will be required to verify advertisers on their platforms and ensure their ads comply with local laws, as part of an upcoming mandatory code aimed at combatting a wave of scams.

Banks have long complained that scammers promoting fraudulent investment schemes have managed to advertise on social media, luring investors with the promise of high returns.

Assistant Treasurer Stephen Jones said there would need to be more friction in payment systems.Credit: Dominic Lorrimer

As the government looks to rein in the scam epidemic, Jones said on Tuesday that it was up to the platforms to check who was advertising on their platforms, and ensure published material complied with the law.

“That’s a clear obligation that you can very confidently foretell will be in our codes of practice,” he said at the AusPayNet summit in Sydney.

“We want to work with all parts of industry and do this through a partnership approach, but I don’t think it’s too much to ask of some of the platforms that they do those two basic things.”

Last month, the federal government announced public consultation on a proposed scams code framework aimed at setting clear roles and responsibilities across the scams ecosystem, beginning with banks, telecommunications providers and digital platforms.

All regulated businesses would come under obligations to prevent, detect and respond to scams with strong penalties for those which failed to comply.

It comes as Australians lost $3.1 billion to scams last year and will be accompanied by a push for more “friction” in payments, in an attempt to slow the movement of money to scammers.

“There will be more friction,” Jones said, despite consumers increasingly seeking faster real-time payments. “Not directly, but for some things, and it’ll be risk-based.”

Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) deputy chair Sarah Court said people were increasingly being tricked into rolling entire superannuation savings into funds in the names of criminals.

‘What we’re seeing on a daily and tragic basis is that people are rolling their life savings into things they think are investments.’

“What we’re seeing on a daily and tragic basis is that people are rolling their life savings into things they think are investments, particularly increasingly so in the superannuation area.”

Court said while Australia was one of the few jurisdictions in the world that had managed to persuade Google to take a harder stance against scammers, the corporate regulator hadn’t made headway with other media platforms.

“We’ve engaged with Google, and they’ve given us a public commitment in relation to investment scams that they will not advertise on Google investment products if the advertiser doesn’t have an Australian Financial Services license,” she said.

“Unfortunately, we haven’t had any success with Facebook and some of the other social media platforms.”

Meta, which owns apps including Facebook and Instagram, are yet to come on board.Credit: AP

Court said codes and mandatory obligations were “perhaps the answer” given ASIC’s lack of success with platforms such as Facebook.

Banks have also repeatedly complained about social media platforms running ads for investment scams, which are by far the largest source of scam losses, according to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s Scamwatch website.

A spokesperson for Meta, which owns and operates social media platforms including Facebook and Instagram, said scammers presented a challenge in many environments, including social media.

“Meta is constantly tackling scams through a combination of technology, such as new machine learning techniques and specially trained reviewers, to identify content and accounts that violate our policies,” they said. “We are currently also working across industries and with the government to identify new ways to stop scammers.”

Catriona Lowe, chair of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), said scams were constantly evolving with organised criminals taking advantage of events such as the FIFA Women’s World Cup and impersonating authorities. “These are not in guys in the back shed,” she said. “They have HR departments and car parks.”

However, she said a number of anti-scam measures had led to September being the lowest single month of reported investment scam since October 2020. “That is, frankly, a quicker bending of that curve than I expected to see,” she said.

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