HACKED OFF: Government must reach out to shut down scammers

OVER the past three months I would have spoken with around 30 different telephone scammers.

They purported to be from the ATO, an insurance agency, a government grants department, Microsoft, Telstra, and even AGL. All had strong accents from the sub-continent and all were adamant they were calling from our big brown land.

My most recent conversation was last week with Evie from "Microsoft". Apparently I had a Microsoft security issue. I didn't want to break it to Evie that I have an Apple desktop. I took the opportunity to provide Evie with some career advice and asked her to stop calling people in Australia and ripping them off. She said she was in North Sydney. I asked her what the weather was like in North Sydney. She didn't appreciate my attempt at some knowledge-based authentication - when you test someone of their knowledge of a topic to validate who they are or what they say. She ignored my question. I asked her again. She paused. There was an uncomfortable silence and then a sigh at her end. Then a confession of sorts: "I just need a job. Can you get me a job? Please?". Then she hung up.

It made me think on what motivates those to join a criminal enterprise, and whether Evie and her colleagues really know what their organisation is all about. Most of us don't know what it's like to live where they do, to work where they work, and the implications for not following their supervisor's orders.

Before the election the Government announced a new Australian cyber ambassador. The strategy suggests this role is about advocating for an open, free and secure Internet, but I would have thought on the top ten list of things to do would be to work with counterparts on the sub-continent to see what influence may be brought on criminal call centres. The solution may be abstract - like creating legitimate employment pathways for people like Evie.

You're looking at an industry dedicated to calling Australians to infiltrate our personal computers, steal our ID, and scam us of our money. Now don't get me wrong. Of course there's the things each of us can do to build our own resilience - hang up is an obvious suggestion. But given this announcement, I couldn't think of too many first order priorities to make a difference to the lives of many Australians than to find out what's really going on. And while they're at it, why not explore what it would take to make such career paths less attractive for the Evies of our world.


* Dr David Lacey is a Senior Research Fellow at the University of the Sunshine Coast and Director of IDCARE.

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