Tackling scammers head-on

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The opinion editorial below is by Chris Sheehan, NAB Executive Investigations & Fraud and was published in News Corp papers on Monday 25 July.

Chris spoke further on 3AW Mornings with Neil Mitchell on Monday 25 July about this.

Scams have a truly devastating impact on their victims, wreaking havoc on their finances and emotional wellbeing.

The ACCC’s Targeting Scams report presents the scale and sophistication of scams in Australia.

Australians lost more than $2 billion to scams in 2021.

Around 96% of people reported being exposed to a scam in the last five years, with half of these contacted on a weekly or daily basis.

With more than 27 years’ experience at the Australian Federal Police (AFP) before joining NAB’s Investigations and Fraud team, I’ve seen first-hand how these multinational crime groups work.

This is not a case of a couple of kids with a laptop operating out of a garage.

These are the same criminals running drug trafficking rings and organised crime syndicates. They are transnational, well resourced, resilient and ruthless.

It’s distressing to see the impact these criminals are having on many families and communities.

The four types of scams we see impacting our customers most are:

  • Investment scams: people tricked into transferring large sums of money to scammers pretending to provide legitimate investment options. While the theme varies, fake cryptocurrency scams are currently most prevalent.
  • Business email compromise: where scammers hack into email accounts and change the payment details on invoices, or request payments to new accounts.
  • Romance scams: targeting vulnerable people or those looking for a companion, convincing them to transfer money to help their cause.
  • Remote access scams: where people are targeted by phone, email or SMS by scammers pretending to be from your bank, telco or a government agency.

In 2021, NAB blocked or prevented over a million scams targeting our customers, and were able to save or recover over $60 million of our customers’ money.

While that is significant, we are determined to do more.

Scams are a serious, rapidly growing problem. The issue requires a comprehensive public and private sector response spanning across different business sectors, levels of government and agencies to keep our community safe.

NAB has established strategic intelligence and capability sharing partnerships with the AFP, Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission and the Australian Cyber Security Centre (ACSC). We have seconded staff to the AFP to deepen both organisations’ understanding of the criminal threats and help stop crime.

Each year we invest tens of millions of dollars into technology and expertise to prevent fraud and scams and protect our customers.

We use new technologies like biometrics and have a team of experts monitoring customer accounts 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to detect unusual account activity.

We’re currently recruiting another 80 people to join our team to sit alongside the hundreds of experts we have with diverse backgrounds including ex-police, cyber experts and IT specialists.

Importantly though, personal vigilance and education remains vital.

I have three key pieces of advice to help you protect yourself and your family:

1. Use multi-factor authentication (MFA) 

This is when you use a password to log in, plus a one-time password or code sent to your phone. It provides an added layer of security that confirms your identity when logging into an online service or account, helping to prevent unauthorised access.

2. Send your payments using PayID 

Using a PayID to transfer money to a person or business provides an extra check that the money is going to the intended recipient. It gives you the confidence you’re paying the person you intended.

3. Stay vigilant and educated 

If something looks too good to be true, it probably is. Never be pressured to pay immediately for something, or provide personal or banking information during an unsolicited phone call. If you’re unsure if a call is legitimate, hang up and call the business directly using the phone number on their website. Once your money leaves your account the likelihood your bank can recover it is low. In most cases, scammed funds are moved overseas within hours.

There are lots of additional resources offered by NAB, other banks, the ACCC and ACSC to help guide you on what to look out for and how to stay safe.

Last year, we ran more than 70 free customer education sessions and provide regular updates and advice to our customers on how they can protect themselves.

Unfortunately, there is no silver bullet to fix this growing societal problem.

We know we have an important role to play and we are working hard to do more, but it will take a village to come together to raise awareness and to take action against these predators.

Chris Sheehan is NAB’s Executive for Group Investigations and Fraud. Prior to NAB, he spent over 27 years working for the Australian Federal Police. 

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