Regulators to launch anti-investment scam ‘fusion cell’

Anti-scam fusion cell

ASIC and the ACCC have announced they will launch the first of a number of dedicated anti-scam taskforces – or ‘fusion cells’ – by the end of the year, with the ASIC-led team to focus on proactively shutting down investment scams.

Part of the Federal Government’s National Anti-Scam Centre, and co-led by corporate regulator ASIC and competition regulator the ACCC, the first fusion cell will include representatives from Australia’s banks, telecommunications industry and digital platforms, with additional expertise provided by the public sector.

The Centre will coordinate a series of fusion cells with different participants to target particular scam types. These fusion cells, the ACCC said, are “time-limited taskforces to take timely action to address specific, urgent problems” related to scam activity.

The dedicated ASIC/ACCC cell will look to address five core areas related to investment scam activity, including early intervention to disrupt investment scams and proactively halt scammers before they strike; the removal of investment scam websites from the internet; a role in sharing information to assist the private sector in disrupting scams; providing information to the public so they can avoid investment scams; and, identifying intelligence to refer to law enforcement in Australia and overseas.

ACCC deputy chair Catriona Lowe noted that these scams represent “the highest level of reported individual losses”, and cause significant “emotional devastation for victims”,  hence why this is the focus of the first fusion cell to be launched.

The ACCC’s Scamwatch service has, since the beginning of 2023, received more than 3,700 reports of investment scams, with a reported total of $151 million lost to scammers by far the most of any recorded category by ‘amount lost’, and well ahead of phishing scams, the second highest category, which raked in just under $15 million.

ASIC deputy chair Sarah Court noted that the first fusion cell will emphasise collaboration between the regulators and the private sector, adding that intelligence sharing is “crucial to addressing [the investment scam] challenge”.

Announced as part of an overall $86.5 million Budget 2023 commitment to tackle scam activity, the National Anti-Scam Centre officially launched over the weekend.

The Federal Government allocated $58.0 million over three years to establish the Centre, including funding for the fusion cells.

Commenting on the launch of the new Centre and fusion cell, Minister for Financial Services Stephen Jones said the new ‘hit squads’ would “address urgent, high profile or damaging scams”.

“That’s why the first fusion cell will target investment scams, which currently account for over 50 per cent of all scam losses – costing Australians over $1 billion a year,” he said.

The ACCC noted that the Centre’s technology build will enable it to collect and centralise scam intelligence received from any institution (private or government); distribute data to those who need it most – for instance, to banks to freeze an account, telcos to block a call, digital platforms to take down a website or account; and analyse and act on the trends sourced from this data to disrupt scams and educate Australians.