If you’re tired of unwanted dinner-time phone calls and fraudulent SMS messages, you’re not alone – but a solution may be closer after government regulators committed to exploring new technologies to stop Australians getting taken by phone scams.

Scams are a significant problem in Australia, with the ACCC’s ScamWatch site suggesting there have already been over 36,000 reported scams in calendar 2019 – and that victims had lost over $14.8m between the beginning of the year and mid March.

Last year, scammers took $107m from victims in 177,516 reported instances.

Deciding that enough is enough, the government this month laid out its plans for a formal Scam Technology Project (STP).

To be managed by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA), STP is a direct response to recent research that found 72 percent of Australian landline users, and 50 percent of mobile users, had received unsolicited scam calls in the previous six months.

Mobile users were receiving 2.3 calls, on average, per week while a quarter of landline users said they were receiving at least one unsolicited call every day.

“The level of consumer concern about unwanted telemarketing supports the strong enforcement action the ACMA is taking,” ACMA chair Nerida O’Loughlin said in announcing the project.

“The ACMA remains concerned about how these sectors deal with consumers, particularly how they obtain consent.”

Companies ignoring their obligations may feel it: in one recent quarter, ACMA contacted 857 businesses about their telemarketing obligations and imposed a $285,600 infringement notice on lead-generation firm Lead My Way Pty Ltd for failing to check its call lists against the Do Not Call Register.

A range of solutions

ACMA’s STP work will be supported by staff from the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) and Australian Cyber Security Centre (ACSC).

The group will explore ways of improving scam-call handling using technologies such as call blocking, information sharing, and network traffic analysis and authentication protocols.

Anti-scam technologies are already being used overseas, with varying efficacy.

US carriers AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon, for example, offer services that screen incoming calls against a regularly updated list of known robocallers. Other third-party apps, including some built into new phones, offer similar capabilities.

The Terms of Reference include current and future technologies, cost and benefits of potential solutions, and international examples across phone calls, SMS and email scams, and scams perpetrated using third-party over-the-top (OTT) solutions.

ACMA will soon release a discussion paper for comment, and Minister for Communications and the Arts, Mitch Fifield, is due to receive a final report by December.