Telecommunications providers will start facing fines of up to $250,000 if they fail to properly ban scam phone calls under new rules from the Austrlaian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA).

The industry code, developed in conjunction with the Communications Alliance and Australian telcos, will require service providers to monitor their networks for scam calls in order to identify and block them.

Chair of ACMA’s taskforce on scam calls, Fiona Cameron, said the code will help keep Australians safe from annoying and potentially harmful scammers.

“The code is a unique and ground-breaking contribution to global regulatory efforts to prevent the harms caused by scammers,” Cameron said.

“It is a holistic, end-to-end framework for effective scam reduction activity.

“There is no silver bullet to reduce scams, but these new rules place clear obligations on industry to do more to protect their customers and build confidence that it’s safe to answer a ringing phone.”

The code recognises the difficulty of identifying scam calls and offers a non-comprehensive set of characteristics that telcos may use in their monitoring efforts, including that scam calls tend to be high in volume and short in duration.

But each carrier will have to work out its own methods to determine, trace, and block scam callers.

“Industry’s initial efforts to block scams are an encouraging step towards the substantial and sustained work required before consumers will see a real reduction in scam calls,” Cameron said.

“The end game is to stop scammers in their tracks wherever possible and ACMA will enforce this code to make sure telcos are meeting their obligations to their customers.”

According to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s (ACCC) Scamwatch website, Australians have lost over $132 million in scams this year alone.

One prominent phishing scam involved bad actors spoofing Australian Tax Office (ATO) phone numbers and sending out dodgy links via SMS to harvest login credentials.

In another scam, a pre-recorded message in Mandarin was threatening people who answered the phone that they were under investigation and had to press ‘1’ to speak to an investigator. People have lost around $6.5 million to this scam in 2020.

Along with proactively tracking, tracing, and blocking calls, telcos will be required to share information about scam calls with each other and maintain up-to-date information for customers to help protect themselves from scams.

CEO of industry body Communications Alliance, John Stanton, said he was pleased to see different companies collaborate on reducing the number of scams.

“There is a shared recognition that scam calls are financially damaging and distressful to thousands of Australians and need to be curbed through concerted joint efforts,” Stanton said.

“Millions of scam calls have been blocked in recent trial initiatives and service providers are investing in new technologies and processes to enable them to realise the objectives and requirements of the new code.”