Friday, 28 February 2020 11:22

ACMA steps up fight on mobile number fraud Featured

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A new standard to mandate stronger identity verification processes before mobile numbers can be ported is being introduced in Australia as the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) steps up its fight against mobile number fraud.

The new Mobile Number Pre-porting Additional Identify Verification) Industry Standard 2020 requires telcos to add an additional identity verification when transferring customers’ phone numbers from one telco to another.

Mobile number fraud is a form of identity theft where scammers steal a person’s personal details to gain control of their mobile phone number.

ACMA Authority member Fiona Cameron said mobile number fraud is a serious issue that can cause significant harm to victims.

“The process will now require multifactor authentication, where a consumer must respond to the telco to confirm they have authorised the transfer.

“Mobile number fraud can be devastating. Victims in Australia lose on average more than ten thousand dollars.

“Mobile phones contain a lot of personal information so once a scammer has control of your number, they can hijack a lot of personal services, like online banking.

“This new standard is a strong step forward in the battle against criminals who scam mobile phone users and will significantly reduce the prevalence of mobile fraud.
“The new rules commence on 30 April 2020 and the ACMA will be actively monitoring compliance so that consumers can continue to use their mobile phones with confidence,” Cameron said.

The action by the ACMA comes at the direction of the Australian Government which issued a formal direction to the Authority to make and introduce the new rules as part of measures to clamp down on the practice of mobile identity fraud.

An industry standard is an enforceable legislative instrument with enforcement options under the Telecommunications Act 1997 including remedial directions and civil penalties of up to $250,000.

“Mobile providers will have until 30 April 2020 to comply with the ACMA’s new standard designed to protect Australians from fraud and identity theft,” Minister for communications Paul Fletcher said.

“The ACMA will actively monitor compliance with the industry standard and has enforcement powers to issue formal warnings or civil penalties of up to $250,000 to non-compliant mobile providers. The ACMA will have my full support in pursuing non-compliant mobile providers to ensure Australians are kept safe from scammers.

“I thank the mobile providers that have already put these measures in place and I make it very clear that I expect the others to comply with the standard by the end of April.”

The ACMA says it is working actively to combat scams over Australian telecommunications networks, and in November it released the Combating Scams Action Plan which announced the commencement of trials for scam-reduction initiatives.

The Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN) has welcomed the announcement of additional identity checks as a “positive step” towards protecting mobile phone users against scammers.

“This is a serious issue that causes significant harm to people all across Australia,” said ACCAN CEO, Teresa Corbin.

“The ACMA’s action is a much-needed first step towards stopping scammers and protecting mobile phone users.

“The risk of up to $250,000 in fines should act as a deterrent to any telco who may have weak identity verification practices.”

Corbin said that while ACCAN is broadly supportive of the Standard, there are still further opportunities to strengthen porting processes.

“Requiring all telcos to use multifactor authentication before they port a mobile number is a good idea, however, it’s important that this two-step process is secure. SMS messages aren’t secure enough to prevent fraudulent mobile
number porting,” Corbin said.

“We’d like to see the ACMA require telcos to use highly secure forms of verification such as hardware or software authentication tokens which are generated with a mobile app. We’ve already seen some government services adopt this approach through the development of the myGov Code Generator app.”

The Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman Judi Jones said the new Telecommunications (Mobile Number Pre-porting Additional Identify Verification) Industry Standard 2020 will safeguard consumers from potential threats such as identity theft or having their bank accounts drained.

Jones said the TIO had raised potential consumer harms associated with mobile number theft in its systemic investigation report on "Reducing fruadsters' theft of mobile numbers", published in February 2019.

Welcoming the new measures, Jones said: “We are pleased to see our systemic investigation work informing this regulatory action. The telecommunications industry has worked hard over the last year to address the security risks associated with mobile number theft.

“When fraud happens the impact on consumers is significant. It is important identity verification procedures keep up with evolving technological risks and strike the right balance between accessibility and security. The ACMA’s new Standard is a welcome layer of consumer protection to combat telco fraud.”

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Peter Dinham

Peter Dinham - retired in 2020. He is a veteran journalist and corporate communications consultant. He has worked as a journalist in all forms of media – newspapers/magazines, radio, television, press agency and now, online – including with the Canberra Times, The Examiner (Tasmania), the ABC and AAP-Reuters. As a freelance journalist he also had articles published in Australian and overseas magazines. He worked in the corporate communications/public relations sector, in-house with an airline, and as a senior executive in Australia of the world’s largest communications consultancy, Burson-Marsteller. He also ran his own communications consultancy and was a co-founder in Australia of the global photographic agency, the Image Bank (now Getty Images).

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