OPINION: The victims of scams should not have to pay

First published in today’s Herald Sun, by Stephanie Tonkin, CEO Consumer Action Law Centre

I speak to the victims of scams every week and their stories leave me shaken and sad. Often, what’s stolen is everything they saved to buy their family home or support themselves through ill health. I hear of scammers clearing out a family’s entire accounts, leaving them with literally nothing for food or rent.

First, victims feel stunned disbelief at what has happened to them, and then realise they’re totally alone – no help even from the bank that should have kept their money safe.

With more than $2.7 billion stolen in 2023 alone, thousands of families are facing this grim reality.

Recently we’ve been contacted by a great-grandmother who had her entire $1.6 million in life savings stolen by criminals who impersonated a bank. It was money from the sale of her home to pay for aged care.

Another person had $50,000 stolen – savings for the impending birth of her first child. A happy time turned into a nightmare.

There are thousands more stories across Australia. Everyone reading has heard of someone in their circle robbed by these criminals.

Assistant Treasurer Stephen Jones says he will introduce mandatory codes for banks, telcos, and digital platforms to prevent scams, and impose penalties if they don’t meet the ‘high bar’.

But the Albanese Government is resisting calls for scam victims to be reimbursed when they fall through the cracks of a faulty system. I firmly believe that industry should be reimbursing these people, just as they do when people are victims of fraud – like unauthorised charges on your credit card. We are talking about crimes allowed to succeed on bank, telco and digital platforms, where we, and our money, are supposed to be safe and secure. Yet the consumer is left paying for industry failures.

Anybody can fall for today’s sophisticated scams. We do not believe that customers are less careful if they know they’ll be reimbursed. UK bank TSB reports their reimbursement policy is good for customer service, for reporting scams (enabling other banks to prevent scams) and customer loyalty. They even save costs –reimbursement prevents expensive complaints to regulators and external dispute resolution. Importantly, it drives businesses to invest in preventing scams.

Banks, telcos, and other businesses are seen by the community as complicit with scammers. Why? Because they are doing the bare minimum to protect their customers’ money and arguing we will be ‘careless’ when transacting online.

Why isn’t the Albanese Govt putting more pressure on industry to reimburse customers who are victims of crime?


Media contact: Mark Pearce, Media and Communications Adviser, 0413 299 567, media@consumeraction.org.au

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