SMS scams rise despite success in blocking fake phone calls

The plague of SMS scams is proving a thorny issue for Australian telecom operators despite their success in reducing the number of fraudulent phone calls people receive.

Scamwatch from the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission reports that between January 1 and November 13 this year, reports of phone scams fell by 61%, from 135,400 in 2021 to 57,400 this year. year.

The reduction is attributed to the fraudulent call code the industry introduced to identify, block and trace incoming calls from scammers in 2020.

More than 549 million calls have been blocked by telecom operators since the scam code was introduced.

A similar code was introduced to block fraudulent messages in July this year, but there has not been a similar drop yet.

Although there has been a reduction in the number of reports since July, reports of fraudulent text messages increased by 5% from January to mid-November.

The consensus among industry sources is that SMS scams are more difficult because scammers know how to change what they’re doing and get around blocks.

But telecom operators are working on it. An Optus spokesperson said more than 10 million fraudulent text messages were blocked between July and September this year.

“Optus is leading the industry with advanced filtering and machine learning in our SMS systems, and while we don’t speak publicly about our security measures, we’re excited that more industries are now implementing similar systems,” the spokesperson said.

A TPG spokesperson said the company blocked about 43 million scam text messages per month this year, but blocking alone was not enough to stop scam text messages.

The company advocated for an industry-run whitelist where businesses would register their sender ID on the list before they could send messages as that business. This would prevent the usurpation of trade names in Australia.

“TPG Telecom has long advocated for an industry-regulated SMS origin label whitelist and number management techniques, which could prevent a huge proportion of fraudulent texts from spoofing legitimate businesses,” said the spokesperson. “Untrusted traffic could be immediately reduced if we stopped allowing Australian numbers to come from outside their home network.”

SMS and phone scams are the top two scams reported to ScamWatch (59,460 and 55,215 reports respectively between January and October this year), but according to Telstra many other fraudulent emails are blocked by the company.

The company said it blocked more than 61 million fraudulent text messages each month under its Cleaner Pipes program, but blocked an average of 332 million fraudulent emails per month between January and October to customer email addresses. from Telstra, the equivalent of 7,600 emails per minute.

Narelle Devine, Telstra’s information security manager for Asia-Pacific, said Telstra blocked these emails through reputation lists to block bad actors, scanning attachments for potential viruses and analyzing the links to see if they were malicious or directing users to a known scam. site when clicked.

ScamWatch ranks email scams third with 39,181 so far in 2022.

From January to October, ScamWatch said, Australians had reported losses of around $475 million from scams, with investment scams topping $321 million.

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