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Aussie govt under pressure to make SMS anti-scam register mandatory

Australian banks and organisations exploited by SMS scammers, and the telcos asked to filter and block scams, want a mandatory sender ID registry, but the government has reserved its decision.

The government announced today it will take an interim step, however, with enabling legislation to grant the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) power to establish and run an SMS sender ID registry.

A limited pilot has been operating since December 2023, but telcos argue broader business involvement is required, and that requires legislation.

The decision now is whether participation be mandatory or voluntary for Australian organisations.

While noting that 89 percent of industry feedback backed “mandatory registration of SMS Sender IDs”, communications minister Michelle Rowland remained tight-lipped on which way the government would go.

“The legislation is the first step in establishing the register,” she said.

“The government is considering all of the submissions on the consultation which will help to inform a final decision on whether the register will ultimately be a voluntary or mandatory model, including costings and implementation details.”

She added: “The register will help protect well-known brand names from being imitated and make Australia an even harder place for scammers to operate.”

Business identifiers
The government first revealed its plans to launch the sender ID registry last year as part of its 2023-24 Budget.

Under this, the government committed $10 million over four years to fund a register based on other overseas models, launched a pilot, and then began a consultation in February this year over whether the scheme should be voluntary or mandatory..

Submissions to the consultation from NAB, Australia Post, Commonwealth Bank, along with Optus and TPG, reveal strong support for a compulsory registry for businesses who are sending SMS communications to their customers.

The register would allow telcos to check whether messages being sent under a brand name correspond with the legitimate sender.

Telcos can then “block incoming messages that are not legitimate trying to use that Sender ID”.

Both NAB and CBA have called for the mandatory enforcement of “alpha tags”, a string of three to 11 letters and/or numbers that aim to serve as an identifier of a brand.

CBA has argued for broader measures, including a register for specific phone numbers used in other digital banking checks and operations such as SMS short codes.

CBA, which participated in a pilot of the system, alongside Telstra, Optus, TPG Telecom and Pivotel, also raised concerns that mandatory enforcement of a registry would deter organisations from using alpha-tags, which would instead leave customers receiving messages from unknown numbers.

As such, the bank said that telcos should limit the SMS volume of businesses without registered alpha tags.

Bendigo and Adelaide Bank, meanwhile, argued that leaving the registry voluntary would place an “unfair burden on consumers to decipher if a branded SMS is legitimate or not”.

Unwilling participants
Scams via SMS have become an increasing concern for consumers, businesses and telcos in recent years, with more than $26 million lost via fraudulent text messages in 2023.

While the telcos appear to be on the same page regarding mandatory registration, Optus noted that some businesses it dealt with were dismissive of the issue of scam texts.

Optus said “many prominent brands have shown an unwillingness to protect their brands against scam SMS through the use of existing voluntary schemes”.

“A voluntary approach… has shown that many brands still exhibit an unwillingness to protect their brand against scam messages,” Optus continued.

“Where brand-owners are not taking adequate steps to protect their brands from misuse, Optus considers a mandated registration scheme is warranted to protect consumers.”

TPG Telecom also noted that only by “developing a mandatory, trusted, closed ecosystem for sending alphanumeric Sender ID SMSs will the public, businesses, and the telecommunication industry see a reduction in scam communications.” itnews

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