A DRAMATIC rise in phone scams ( GA, Jan 13) scaring the wits out of Geelong residents is part of a totally predictable national cyber attack.
Political huffing and puffing out of Canberra about cyber security has done nothing to stem the tide of elaborate cons against individuals.
The $101 million ripped out of Australian personal savings in 11 months last year (December tally is not in yet) is well up on 2017.
The scams are ramping up at the same time as new Joint Cyber Security Centres have opened in capital cities as part of a $47 million program to stiffen our defences.
The new Australian Cyber Security Centre in Canberra also launched a public facing website and alerts service that complement the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s Scamwatch that has been publishing alerts and statistics since 2015, dutifully recording the rapid rise of internet fraud (including when I got dudded out of $500).
Last January, Scamwatch recorded 318 threats to life, arrest and “other” for a total haul of $118,000.
The “pay now or get arrested” scam didn’t even make it into the top 10.
By November, the arrest scam was the biggest in the country, Scamwatch recording 6684 reports in the month, (remember it was 318 in January), costing victims more than $500,000.
Surprisingly, young people were hardest hit financially, with victims aged 18 and 24 handing over more than $266,000.
I see my tax money being spent on cyber crime prevention and I’m sure a lot is being done to protect our power grids, our banking systems, our government departments and business sectors.
What I don’t see is any lull in the attacks on individuals.
I understand the scams are international and so it’s very difficult for federal police and other enforcement agencies to find and prosecute the crooks.
But cyber police and public information campaigns won’t do much to stem the tide, as much as we need both (it’s much like the war against drugs, which is also international).
What’s needed, I think, are more secure and trusted ways to communicate.
And that includes the phone system, which has become more private and less trusted since it was invented in the late 1800s. Let me explain. Clunky phone systems certainly were less secure back then, simply because switchboard operators manually connected the calls and listened in to everything, even chiming into the conversation.
I doubt anyone would threaten to arrest or kill you with an operator like that riding shotgun, real phone lines literally in the palms of their hands.
And you certainly couldn’t operate an international scam at scale through a manual switchboard, that’s for sure.
Automation and the creeping anonymising of phone numbers and their owners has created a playground for crooks who operate almost in plain sight, yet remain invisible.
This is the achilles heel of our obsession with absolute privacy and security.
In the wrong hands, a gold standard secure channel is a licence for wrongdoing that no one can see or trace.
I’m not arguing for a return to switchboards or cracking open phones.
There is another way to separate our trusted partners — the real power companies, banks and government departments — from the impostors, without compromising privacy.
I don’t think it’s hard to do, not as hard as some would have you think.
I’m talking about the phone book.
Just build it right into my phone, secure the numbers of trusted brands and their partners with a big, fat green tick, just like we do with domain names on the internet.
I want to see that green tick when the taxman attempts to call me.
I want to see that green tick when the bank wants to talk to me about my balance.
I want that green tick for any other business that deals with me regularly. And I promise I will only pick up the phone for trusted phone numbers that glow green in the night.
The rest can go to hell. Peter Judd is newsroom operations manger for News Corp and a former editor of the Geelong Advertiser.
CALLER ID: We need proof the person on the other end of the phone is who they say they are.