No time to lose in the race against scammers



This article was originally published 20 April, 2023.

The opinion editorial below is by Chris Sheehan, NAB Executive Investigations & Fraud.

Three point one billion dollars. That’s the amount the ACCC reported that Australians lost to scammers in 2022. That’s up from around $1.8 billion in 2021.

Australians of every age, gender and demographic are being flooded with scam lures via text messages, phone calls, emails and on social media and gaming platforms.

It’s a devastating number but it doesn’t tell the full story.  What it doesn’t capture is the emotional and psychological harm these predatory criminals leave in their wake – the businesses destroyed, homes lost, and relationships broken.

Unfortunately, the problem is getting worse. NAB saw a 38% increase in customers reporting scams last bank year and we expect a significant increase again this year.

This is a global epidemic. Looking at what’s happening in the UK and the US, it’s clear this unprecedented, modern-day crime wave has a long way to run.

The UK Government recently declared fraud and scams a national emergency. It’s now treated as a national security issue on par with terrorism. That says it all.

Most scams involve some form of online payment, many are linked to fake investment advertising on social media platforms or criminals exploiting telecommunications services.

As individuals, we need to think about life in a digital world. We spend so much time on screens, reacting quickly and sub-consciously to content that we may be losing our ability to recognise red flags.

Banks like NAB have a crucial role to play helping customers to bank as safely as possible.

Last bank year, we invested just under $1.4 billion back into the bank and we expect to invest more than that this year. Fifty-five per cent of that spend went towards a range of areas, including improving our financial crime detection and cyber security capabilities.

We have a comprehensive, bank wide strategy including around 60 initiatives either completed or underway to combat fraud and scams.

But we can and will do more.

In 2021, our scams and fraud team was taking about 37,000 queries a month from customers. That number jumped to about 130,000 in December last year.

This surge in calls means it’s taken many customers longer than we want to get through to us. Average wait times were 40 minutes in December and that’s clearly not good enough.

We know this can add to the distress many customers feel when impacted by a scam and we’ve been working hard to fix this.

We’ve added 50 people to our team since October and average call wait times are now down to around four minutes.  We want to reduce this further, but the goal is stopping scams occurring in the first place.

We’ve implemented measures to stop criminals infiltrating NAB phone numbers and text messages, significantly reducing spoofing scams targeting our customers.

We’re constantly looking at ways to improve our ability to stop suspicious payments in real time before they leave NAB’s control. We recently introduced new real-time payments prompts to help customers identify potential scams and to make sure money is going to the right recipient when they’re making a payment.

Prevention is critical. Once a payment is sent to a scammer it’s very hard for us to recover the money.

NAB is working with the Federal Government, banking, telecommunications, online and social media industries, consumer groups and regulators in a Team Australia approach to the problem.

The Government’s National Anti-Scams Centre is a welcome move and one we’re helping to bring to life.  We anticipate they’ll be some kind of national scams code of practice in future, and we’ll contribute to that as well.

I spent nearly three decades with the Australian Federal Police and saw first-hand how resilient and agile these organised crime groups are. I’d like to see all of them behind bars.

We are all on the frontline of this fight. We need you.

Our best defence is Australians who are curious, recognise a scam when they see it, ask questions and say no when pressured to make a payment.

Remember your money is safe while it’s in your account. Once you hit send on a payment the money may well be gone forever, despite our best efforts to try and get it back.

Talk to your friends and family about scams, share your experiences and knowledge as it’s a matter of when, not if, they’ll be targeted. Ask if they know how the latest scams work and can identify the red flags.

Don’t wait until it is too late. Until you’ve clicked on the link in the text message. Until you’ve shared your details with someone claiming your account has been compromised. Until you’ve paid an invoice and then questioned if the bank account looked right.

Minutes matter and there’s no time to lose in this fight against the scam epidemic.

Chris Sheehan is NAB’s Executive for Group Investigations and Fraud. Before joining NAB, he spent more than 27 years working for the Australian Federal Police.    


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