Radical move to stop Centrelink scammers

 

A trial to stop increasingly sophisticated cyber criminals stealing money from jobseekers will roll out this year to prevent the theft of millions of dollars from vulnerable Australians.

The pilot program, unveiled by Telstra, the Australian Cyber Security Centre, and Services Australia today, could disarm malicious text messages impersonating government services, including MyGov, Centrelink, and the COVIDSafe app.

And scam figures show, if successful, it could stop criminals pocketing more than $3 million lost to fraudulent SMS messages in Australia each year.

Telstra chief executive Andy Penn announced a new pilot program to stop spam SMS messages. Picture: David Geraghty / The Australian.
Telstra chief executive Andy Penn announced a new pilot program to stop spam SMS messages. Picture: David Geraghty / The Australian.

Telstra chief executive Andy Penn said the company's partnership with government agencies followed recommendations in the 2020 Cyber Security Strategy last month, with phase one now being rolled out to customers.

The scheme worked by using a database of known criminals by the metadata in their messages, and blocking known illegitimate sources from impersonating the SenderID used by government agencies.

"Conceptually, it doesn't sound hard to do," Mr Penn said. "But the scale of traffic and activity that we are dealing with (makes it hard). Just on our network, we have 60 million SMSes a day.

"With so many Australians now working from home as well as relying on government assistance through Services Australia, it's vital that we constantly evolve our approach in defending against malicious activity on our networks."

The scam text messages typically ask users to confirm their MyGov details at a provided web link, and threaten to lock them out of their account if they don't comply.

Others demand victims' bank details in order to secure JobKeeper payments or send fake warnings about tax debts.

Many SMS scams are now targeting unemployed Australians by using JobKeeper payments as bait. Picture: NCA NewsWire / David Geraghty
Many SMS scams are now targeting unemployed Australians by using JobKeeper payments as bait. Picture: NCA NewsWire / David Geraghty

Government Services Minister Stuart Robert said online criminal outfits were costing Australians millions of dollars each year, with more than $6.4 million stolen in government service scams during the last financial year, "an increase of $500,000".

"We know that in the last financial year about 920 Australian citizens had a Centrelink payment defrauded," he said.

Figures from the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission's ScamWatch program showed Australians reported more than 27,000 text message scam attempts last year, and lost $3.03 million.

Defence Minister Linda Reynolds said online criminals were increasingly targeting vulnerable groups during the coronavirus pandemic, and were getting better at exploiting victims.

"Their level of activity has not increased significantly during COVID-19 but what has changed is that cyber criminals have refined their tradecraft," she warned.

"They're really cruelly exploiting Australians' concerns during the pandemic."

Ms Reynolds said Australians should carefully scrutinise any text message or email they received from a government agency, particularly if it contained a web link.

Telstra's program would be rolled out throughout the year, with the goal to have it blocking malicious text messages for all customers by the end of 2020, Mr Penn said.

Originally published as Radical move to stop Centrelink scammers


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