Australia’s government amended telecoms law to make it easier for operators to identify and block scam text messages, a move welcomed by Telstra and Optus.

In a statement, Minster for Home Affairs Karen Andrews explained the regulatory amendment gives mobile operators the authority to block malicious SMS at scale and protect Australians from scammers.

She added the government is committed to working with industry to tackle new and emerging threats, including scams which “exploit digital technologies for nefarious ends”.

Telstra CEO Andrew Penn commented in a blog the government “is providing the necessary guidance” to “support the development and use of” new capabilities to stop scam communications.

Rising threat
Penn stated Telstra received 11,100 reports of SMS scams from customers so far in 2021 compared with 50 in 2020.

He added Telstra is piloting a tool designed to detect and block scam SMS as they travel across the network.

Optus CEO Kelly Bayer Rosmarin welcomed the clarity the change provided those seeking to identify and block scam communications, explaining in a statement the operator “is vigilant about protecting our customers and these amendments provide us with even more options to safeguard our customers from scammers and fraudsters”.

She added its services have never been more critical, but “are also being used to prey on Australians, particularly the most vulnerable”.

Minister for Communications, Urban Infrastructure, Cities and the Arts Paul Fletcher cited figures from Scamwatch showing reports of SMS and phone scams doubled so far in 2021 compared with 2020, with Australians losing AUD87 million ($62.2 million).

Fletcher said a government code to lower spam calls resulted in more than 214 million being blocked since December 2020.