Scams are a crime as old as time, but they’re worse now than ever before. Who isn’t familiar with texts pretending to be from trusted organisations like Australia Post, with dodgy links that will steal your credit card details, or automated calls supposedly from the ATO threating fines or legal action if you don’t pay on the spot? These organised criminals—because that’s what scammers are—are targeting Australians every day. They use lies, forgery and deception to steal money from people, people who quite often are just trying to do the right thing. In 2022 Australians lost more than $3 billion to scams. That’s right—$3 billion stolen from families already doing it tough, community groups trying to make their neighbourhood a better place and local businesses trying to get by.

Earlier this year I met Nina, a resident of Wodonga in my electorate. In 2022 Nina had $11,600 stolen by a ‘Hi Mum’ scam. Nina’s daughter was travelling overseas, so when a text arrived from an unknown number explaining that she’d broken her phone, it made complete sense. Nina said that the texts that followed used the sort of language that she and her daughter would use in their text messages and conversations, and the messages continued over several days. Understandably, Nina was absolutely devastated, saying:

… we worked so hard for this and then these thieves just steal your money and there seems to be no repercussions.

Sadly, Nina’s story is all too common, with more than $7.2 million stolen from Australians by the ‘Hi Mum’ scams in recent years. These were parents, grandparents and friends who were targeted by criminals for trying to help family or friends who were in trouble, something we would do without thinking.

Nina and others like her want certainty that this government is focused on making sure there are repercussions for scammers and that consumers are protected by their banks. I agree, because scams are evolving; they get more and more sophisticated every day. Today even amateurs can create convincing deepfakes with only a few seconds of footage gleaned from social media. What parent can confidently say they wouldn’t be vulnerable to a recording or video of their son or daughter, almost indistinguishable from the real thing, saying that their car is broken down and they need cash or that they’ve lost their passport in a foreign country and need help?

I won’t stand here and say that it couldn’t happen to me, because it absolutely could. Let me be clear: Australians from all walks of life are vulnerable to scams, which is why I’m pleased that the National Anti-Scam Centre has reported a reduction in scam losses. But these encouraging figures only relate to scams that are actually reported. In 2022, the ACCC estimated that 30 per cent of scam victims never report the crime to anyone and only 13 per cent report the scam to the ACCC. While the recent figures are encouraging, it’s clear that there is still a huge problem. What I hear loud and clear from Nina and the Consumer Action Law Centre is that Australians are being left to fight this onslaught of scams on their own. Nina says that ‘there is inadequate legislation in place to protect consumers, and the banks are leaving their customers in the cold’.

So it’s clear that the government can’t delay its scams code framework any longer. The proposed framework will create minimum consistent obligations for businesses to prevent, detect, disrupt and respond to scams. I support a strong framework because for too long it’s been up to individuals to carry all of the risk and all the consequences. Nina and her supporters want to see the banks forced to reimburse customers who are scammed. They believe that the banks will only step up and take this seriously when it’s their money on the line.

I wait to see whether this government will create a framework with teeth that will protect people like Nina—and protect people like the Wangaratta and District Men’s Shed. They too succumbed to a scam and lost $25,000, I believe, and some of that money came from a Commonwealth grant. We had an enormous community event supported by all sorts of people from right across the Wangaratta community to help the Wangaratta men’s shed recover their losses, and I’m glad to say we did.

I look forward to welcoming the Assistant Treasurer to the lovely, beautiful town of Myrtleford, in my electorate of Indi. I’m very grateful to the minister for agreeing to come and do a workshop with us in June to discuss this really significant issue. I know people will come from far and wide to attend this. There is great concern about this in my community. It’s really important. Scams are becoming more and more sophisticated every day, and they could be coming for any one of us.

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