Chris Sheehan on 3AW: Collaborating to Fight Scams

National Australia Bank

Below is a transcript of Chris Sheehan, NAB Executive Group Investigations & Fraud speaking with Neil Mitchell on 3AW Mornings on Wednesday 15 February 2023.

Neil Mitchell: The National Australia Bank is joining with the telco providers to try to stop them [spoofing]. On the line the Executive for Group Investigations & Fraud National Australia Bank Chris Sheehan. Good morning.

Chris Sheehan: Good morning Neil. How’s it going?

NM: OK. What is spoofing?

CS: Right. Spoofing is just a word. But essentially what it relates to is a technique or a tactic that scammers use to obfuscate the number they’re contacting their targets from to make it look like it’s a legitimate call from their bank, a government agency or a legitimate business.

NM: So I could ring from 133 693 but it’d come up as your number.

CS: That’s right. They just use … what they do is they use readily legally available technology to overstamp the number they’re calling from with whatever they want it to say. That technology is legal in this country, provided it’s used for a lawful purpose. Clearly, it’s not being used for a lawful purpose in this case. But the net effect of it is you think you’re getting a contact, a phone call or a text message from your bank, in fact you’re talking to a scammer.

NM: That is dangerous. What on earth would be a legal purpose for that technology?

CS: You could use it to change your mobile phone number so that instead of coming up with a number, or an unknown number, on my phone when you rang me, it might say ‘Neil from 3AW’.

NM: Oh I see, sort of branding. Alright so, how do you stop it?

CS: So what we’ve done is partner with telcos to put protections in two places. Firstly, around our NAB phone numbers, so that makes it much more difficult, not impossible unfortunately, but much more difficult for scammers to duplicate or spoof our phone numbers. And the second thing we’ve done is install the same types of protections around our alpha tag. Now alpha tags are what we were just talking about then Neil – changing your number to be a title, a word or a brand name. Again, it will make it much harder for scammers to use those, not impossible because these people are nothing if not innovative and ingenius and well-resourced, but it will be much more difficult and give our customers much better opportunity to realise that the text message they’ve received is not legitimately from NAB.

NM: How often’s it happening, do you think, to NAB customers?

CS: Look, all the evidence I’ve seen… I’ll step back. These types of spoofing scams have been around for a long time. I’m sure you and most of your listeners would have probably received the Linkt toll road or similar type text messages. We started to see a spike in these probably around August-September last year. And from that point we started to try and find solutions to the problems. This has been very effective. We’ve seen a 50% reduction in these cases and a 70% reduction in customer losses. We’ll have to track that over a longer period of time because, no doubt, the scammers will try to find ways and chinks in the armour – it’s a bit of an arms race. But it’s a good outcome so far.

NM: We’ve talked before about the number of scams. How many calls are you getting at the moment about scams?

CS: It’s got worse since we last spoke Neil. It’s up around 130,000 contacts into my fraud call centre a month now.

NM: 130,000 a month?!

CS: Yep. The environment we’re in, we’re not alone here in Australia. This is a global problem. In the UK they’ve taken the step of calling fraud and scams a national security issue and I don’t think we’re too far away from that here. It’s an enormous problem.

NM: How many of those 130,000 have actually been ripped off?

CS: A lot of them unfortunately. And look, I’ll take full accountability here – some of those calls are repeat calls because as you can imagine, with that volume of calls coming in, it can take some time to get through to us. Some people hang up and call back and hang up and call back. Unfortunately, when people fall victim to these scams they tend to lose money and the chance of getting it back, as you and I spoke about before, is very,very low.

NM: You must be putting a fortune into trying to stop this. Are you?

CS: Look I’ve been with NAB now for nearly five years and, in that period of time, we’ve invested well north of a couple hundred million dollars when you count technology, staff and other capabilities to try and tackle this problem and we are having success. But, I’ll go back to what I said earlier, this is an arms race. Every time we close off a loophole or vulnerability, the scammers, who are really well resourced, and not constrained by policy, legislation, jurisdiction, they just hunt until they find another gap and start to exploit it.

NM: So, if we didn’t have people trying to save scammers, you’d be $200 million better off over five years?

CS: Yeah and that would have a flow on to consumers in other areas of course.

NM: Goodness me. Thank you for your time Chris Sheehan, Executive for Group Investigations & Fraud at National Australia Bank.

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