Australian telcos have blocked more than 55 million scam calls in the last three months since a new industry code was introduced.

The Reducing Scam Calls Code, implemented by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) in consultation with the industry and the Communications Alliance in December last year, introduced new penalties of up to $250,000 for telcos breaching directions to comply with the rules.

The code offers a non-comprehensive set of characteristics telcos can use in their monitoring efforts, with each carrier having worked out its own methods to determine, trace, and block scam calls.

Since the code has been in place, telcos have blocked more than 55 million scam calls, the government revealed this week.

This is evidence that the new code is working effectively, Minister for Communications, Urban Infrastructure, Cities and the Arts Paul Fletcher said.

“In 2020, Australians lost $48 million to scam calls,” Fletcher said.

“The Morrison government is serious about tackling scams and it is pleasing to see that more than 55 million scam calls have been blocked as a result of the Reducing Scam Calls Code.”

The new rules were developed after being recommended by ACMA, and came after telcos blocked over 30 million scam calls last year.

The code is a significant step in providing better protections for consumers and making it more difficult for scammers, ACMA Scam Telecommunications Action Taskforce chair Fiona Cameron said.

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

“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.”

Dodgy phone calls accounted for nearly half of all scams reported to the competition watchdog’s Scamwatch service last year.

“Scams have a devastating impact on their victims and scammers are unscrupulous in taking advantage of people,” Cameron said. “They quickly adapt to changing circumstances, as we have seen, for example, in scam activity targeting Australians during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Under the code, telcos must publish information to assist their customers to proactively manage and report scam calls.

They must also share information about identified scam calls with their rival telcos and report the scams to authorities.

Some prominent recent phone scams involved bad actors faking Australian Taxation Office phone numbers, then sending out dodgy links via text message in order to obtain login credentials.

There were more than 107,000 reports from the public to the ATO about these calls in 2019. The ATO and ACMA trialled new technologies to try to block them.

Another major scam involved a pre-recorded message in Mandarin threatening people who answered that they were under investigation and had to press “1” to speak to an investigator.

It’s estimated that people have lost about $6.5 million in this scam last year alone.