The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) has taken firm action against several telecommunications companies following compliance failures that enabled scammers to send SMS scams impersonating road toll, Medicare, and Australia Post services to unsuspecting consumers.
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Compliance Failures Exploited by Scammers
In its investigations, the ACMA discovered that Sinch Australia (Sinch), Infobip Information Technology (Infobip), and Phone Card Selector (Phone Card) allowed SMS messages to be sent using text-based sender IDs without implementing adequate checks to verify their legitimacy.
Infobip was found to have allowed the transmission of 103,146 non-compliant SMS messages, including scams pretending to be well-known Australian road toll companies. Sinch, on the other hand, enabled the transmission of 14,291 non-compliant SMS messages, some of which involved scams impersonating Medicare and Australia Post.
Although Phone Card was also found to have inadequate systems in place to ensure compliance, there is no evidence that scammers exploited the opportunities it created.
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Telcos' Responsibility and ACMA's Actions
Scammers often utilize text-based sender IDs to pose as legitimate organizations, such as government agencies, banks, or road toll companies. Under the Reducing Scam Calls and Scam SMS Code, Australian telcos are required to obtain evidence from customers justifying their legitimate use of text-based sender IDs, such as using business names in SMS communications.
Scams that impersonate reputable organizations can be especially difficult for consumers to identify, and the full extent of the damage caused by these scam texts is unknown.
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Formal Directions and Warnings
As a response, Sinch and Infobip have been issued formal directions by the ACMA to comply with their obligations, which represent the strongest enforcement action available for breaches of the code. Phone Card has received a formal warning from the authority.
Addressing SMS and identity theft scams is a top compliance priority for the ACMA, and telcos that fail to comply with the code may face penalties of up to $250,000.
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Government's Initiative to Prevent Scammers
In addition, the ACMA welcomed the announcement by the Federal Government regarding the development of an SMS sender ID register. This register aims to prevent offshore scammers from impersonating trusted brands and government agencies, thereby closing a significant vulnerability exploited by scammers.
The ACMA expressed its readiness to collaborate with industry stakeholders and trusted brands to implement this new protective measure.