Telstra and CommBank are piloting a program that will check if you’re on the phone to someone at the same time as you’re making a large bank transfer in an attempt to mitigate against scams.

Scam Indicator, as the system is called, will connect CommBank to a Telstra API that can tell the bank if a person is in the middle of a phone call while making a large transfer – something CommBank said was “the prime indicator that a scam is occurring”.

Phone scams are a scourge on the Australian population. Already in 2023, nearly 8,000 people have reported losing money to scams delivered over the phone with total losses exceeding $19 million, according the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s (ACCC) Scamwatch.

But there are some concerns that large corporations are now taking it upon themselves to heighten data sharing and surveillance activities, albeit in the name of better scam protection.

James Clark, executive director of Digital Rights Watch, told Information Age that, despite their best intentions, “it’s nevertheless concerning that companies can just decide to share information about our live activities with each other”.

“Giving banks real-time access to information about everyone’s phone activity is a risky approach to the issue of scams,” he said.

“At the very least, a program like this should be opt-in, with customers informed about what information is being shared, as well as who accesses this information and when.”

The feature, should the pilot be successful, will be limited to the subset of the population who happen to be both CommBank and Telstra customers.

CommBank CEO Matt Comyn said the bank was also in touch with Telstra “to produce a machine-learning scams detection model” as part of a partnership between the two companies.

“We acknowledge that there is more to do given the rising volume and fast changing nature of scams,” he said.

“We’re committed to playing our part to address this national priority alongside leading businesses, government, and the broader community.”

Researchers from Macquarie University last year trained a machine learning model to recognise scam calls in real time, with the suggestion that it could be used to make an app that sits locally on a person’s phone and alerts them if they suspect a scam is happening.

Information Age has asked CommBank for more details about its planned “machine-learning scams detection model” and whether the model would listen to customers' phone calls.

Telstra said artificial intelligence was a “key part” of its latest corporate strategy and is used “to help identify potential issues and cyber threats”.

“Cyber security and addressing the issue of scams is a team effort, and we should be doing all we can to help stem the flow of this criminal activity,” Telstra CEO Vicky Brady said.

“Part of this needs to be organisations working together like this to share knowledge and insights and partnering to develop solutions that can help better protect our customers.”