Using your mobile number as a security check for your emails and banking is widespread practice nowadays, yet a low bar for identity verification amongst telco providers means scammers have been able to easily steal consumers’ mobile numbers. In Australia, requesting a number transfer can be as simple as stating the customer’s name and date of birth. From there, scammers have been able to wreak havoc by accessing bank accounts, email accounts, personal information and other consumer service accounts. The consequences can be serious, where victims of mobile number fraud in Australia lose on average more than $10,000.   

In response, the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) has ramped up its fight against mobile number fraud by announcing that telcos will be required to strengthen identity verification steps before transferring mobile numbers to other providers or SIM cards, otherwise known as ‘porting’. ACMA’s new Telecommunications (Mobile Number Pre-Porting Additional Verification) Industry Standard 2020 aims to prevent unauthorised porting, by mandating that telcos use multi-factor authentication before allowing a number to be ported.

This new regime requires telcos to take measures to confirm that the person requesting a port is the actual customer and that the customer authorises the porting. Telcos will also have to publish information on their websites advising customers about the additional identity verification process and telling customers to report to the police or government services, such as Scamwatch and IDCARE, if they suspect their mobile number has been stolen. The new industry standard takes effect on 30 April 2020, so telcos have just under two months to comply or face remedial directions and civil penalties of up to $250,000.

The Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO) has welcomed the changes, citing the previous work it has done on mobile phone fraud. In February 2019, the TIO raised the potential consumer harms associated with mobile number theft in one of its systemic investigation reports.  Banks will also benefit from the strengthened identity verification given that bank accounts are often targeted by identity thieves.

These changes are part of ACMA’s active commitment to combatting scams over Australian telecommunication networks. For example, ACMA implemented a Combating Scams Action Plan in November last year, which has involved conducting trials to combat common phone scams and techniques.     

The Minister for Communications, Cyber Safety and the Arts, the Hon Paul Fletcher MP has issued a statement making it clear that ACMA will actively monitor compliance and will pursue non-compliant telcos to ensure Australians are kept safe from scammers. Given the serious consequences that flow from mobile number fraud, telcos should quickly take steps to comply with the new industry standard to protect their customers, bolster consumer confidence and trust, and avoid facing hefty fines.

Authors: Andrew Hii, Mark Ferguson, Dal Lim

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