Federal Government to Act on Disrupting Illegal Text Message Scams

stressed woman holding mobile phone

The Albanese Government has announced its intent to establish an SMS sender ID Registry or SMS Scam registry to help combat the increasingly large number of scam text messages being sent to Australians.

From the 23/04/23 media release from the Minister for Communications, Hon Michelle Rowland MP:

Almost half of all Australians have been scammed, deceived or exposed to a fake text message – just in the last year alone.

In 2022, Australians lost an estimated $3.1 billion dollars to scams. It’s an alarming rise that is having a devastating impact on people.

This is why the Albanese Government is delivering on its commitment to disrupt these illegal text message scams, by establishing a SMS sender ID Registry through the 2023-24 Budget.

The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) will receive more than $10 million over four years to launch and maintain an Australian SMS sender ID Registry. The Registry will help prevent scammers from imitating key industry or government brand names – such as Linkt or myGov – in text message headers. 

This adds a new layer of protection for Australian consumers against scammers using these known brands to target and deceive.

This measure will complement rules registered by the ACMA in July 2022 for telecommunications companies that blocked more than 90 million scam texts between July and December 2022. Whilst there is no silver bullet, the Australian Government is committed to improving protections and stepping up the fight against illegal scams.

The SMS Sender ID Registry will have a phased introduction before an industry-wide model is in place – subject to rule making, industry readiness and security arrangements. 

More than 47 per cent of Australians have reported exposure to fake or deceiving text messages in the last year. The Registry is intended to assist telecommunications companies to make it more difficult for scammers to imitate trusted and established brand names through SMS. 

The Registry complements the Albanese Government’s investment to establish a National Anti-Scam Centre (NASC) within the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) as an innovative, world-leading public-private sector partnership to disrupt and stop scammers in Australia. 

The NASC will leverage expertise and resourcing from whole-of-government, law enforcement, telecommunications providers, financial services, digital platforms and other intermediaries to deliver a cohesive strategy to prevent future impacts on the economic and social wellbeing of Australians.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) revealed just last week that:

  1. Text messages were the leading contact method for scams in 2022 (33% of scam reports) surpassing phone calls (29%).
  2. Reports about scam texts to Scamwatch increased by 18.8% in 2022. There were 79,836 reports of scam texts. However, 30% of victims do not report scams – including text scams – to anyone, so the estimated loss of over $3.1 billion in 2022 is likely to be far higher.
  3. The most common category of scam reported to Scamwatch in 2022 was phishing (tricking victims into giving out personal information such as bank accounts, passwords, credit cards or super). There was a 469% increase in phishing financial losses in 2022. Most phishing scams were sent as text messages 

Today’s announcements represent the Albanese Government’s commitment to tackling illegal scams and keeping Australians safe.

Example of how a SMS Scam Registry may operate:

  1. You receive regular legitimate text messages from Australia Post with ‘AusPost’ in the message header. This might be a notification to pick up a parcel.
  2. Scammers are currently able to copy or ‘spoof’ that AusPost message header and send you a message in that AusPost message thread. 
  3. This means that in your regular messages from AusPost, a scammer can insert a malicious text message with a scam link that looks otherwise perfectly legitimate inside a trusted brand message thread.
  4. The registry will allow AusPost to register their Sender ID with the registry and telcos will then be able to block incoming messages that are not legitimate trying to use that Sender ID.