There are four reasons why comms regulators cannot successfully protect consumers from harm by trying to ‘raise awareness’ of common phone scams.
- For every scam the regulator issues warnings about, there will be a dozen other scams that the regulator remains ignorant of.
- Anyone can circulate information about crime which will not really help to reduce crime. Some criminals even pretend to be regulators circulating information about crime.
- Most people never receive the warnings. They have other things to do. There is lots of competition for their attention.
- Nobody ever heeded a warning that was given in a language they did not understand.
The world has hundreds of different national comms regulators and national consumer protection agencies that each seek to warn different national audiences about the same kinds of phone scams that occur in other countries too. Perhaps a body set up specifically to do work at a global level — we might refer to such a body as a Union of Nations, or an International Telephone Union — could help the world by using some kind of global inter-network of computers to send emails and update webpages that issue warnings about criminal behavior identified in many different countries. But in the absence of any such taxpayer-funded body, I will have to do it instead. Because doing it suggests there are many regulators staffed with employees who do not speak Mandarin Chinese but who need to protect Mandarin speakers from scams that follow a familiar pattern.
- The RedZei scams targeting victims in the UK, Ireland and Norway
- The scams that impersonated the Chinese Embassy in London
- The scams that generated warnings from the Chinese Embassies and Consulates in Washington DC, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Germany (and probably other places too, because I do not have time to check them all)
- The Chinese language scams that rank amongst the top three phone scams in Canada
- The scams that targeted Chinese students in the Netherlands
- The scams run by a Taiwanese call center that targeted victims in Singapore
- The international scams run by a big gang of Chinese-speakers living in Indonesia
- The international scams run by a big gang of Chinese-speakers living in Turkey
- The evidence of scams targeting Mandarin speakers from a massive study of robocalls by the University of North Carolina
- That one time when the Commonwealth of Massachusetts warned about Chinese language scam calls
- The series of Mandarin-language scams identified by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission
I could go on, but hopefully I have made my point by now. Lots of people speak Mandarin, and they live in lots of different countries. Criminals who speak Mandarin phone them and try to con them. The criminals use the same methods when targeting victims in different countries because they do not care where the victims are. A plethora of different national agencies respond by issuing warnings that come far too late and which are issued in piecemeal, disjointed fashion. There is no evidence of international coordination to address the problem, although plenty of press releases about national regulators promising to arrange job swaps and information sharing sessions about illegal calls. And so we come to one of those regulators, the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA), and yet another warning about phone calls that try to deceive Mandarin-speakers in Australia.
Have you received a call threatening to disconnect your phone service, claiming to be from the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) or another government agency? Be wary – this is a scam.
Scammers are targeting people who speak Mandarin by pretending to represent a government agency. Some calls give an English language option.
Crickey! I can just imagine the public servants in Washington DC and London swinging into action and planning a
taxpayer-funded holiday fact-finding mission to Australia. Because regulators still have not learned how to use Google to assimilate data from international sources. Though hopefully that means ChatGPT will make them all unemployed in the near future.
The ACMA’s update also indicated that their anti-spoofing drive may not be entirely successful.
The caller will claim there has been illegal activity involving the recipient’s phone number and threaten to disconnect the service. These calls may look as if they are coming from an actual ACMA phone number. This is a trick used by scammers to hide their number and convince you the call is genuine.
Warnings like these are not about genuinely reducing crime by any measurable amount. They exist to deflect criticism of inert regulators. But regulators that issue warnings like these deserve to be criticized. A consumer who is likely to take notice of a press announcement from the ACMA is even more likely to take notice of somebody calling them and pretending to be from the ACMA. The world does not need thousands of press officers issuing thousands of overlapping warnings, some in the relevant language, many of which are not. The International Telecommunication Union should implement a simple protocol to assemble all news about phone scams into a common public resource that can then feed information to law enforcement agencies, journalists, schoolteachers and civic institutions worldwide and in every language. Or better still, perhaps governments should employ fewer people to issue warnings about crime and more people to catch the criminals responsible.