ASIC flexes muscles in scam and phishing takedowns
On 3 November 2023, the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) announced that it had disrupted more than 2,500 scam and phishing websites through its new scam website takedown capability. This included taking down 2,100 sites and initiating takedowns for over 400 more sites.
This initiative represents a novel use of resources to take action against investment scams. The websites disrupted by ASIC so far include fake investment platforms, crypto-asset scam websites, and websites which impersonate legitimate financial service businesses.
The Australian government has allocated significant funds towards efforts to stop malicious scammers. This includes allocating $58 million in funding to the ACCC to complete the setup of a National Anti-Scams Centre (NASC) to coordinate the efforts of these entities.
This week, NASC and Scamwatch are running Scams Awareness Week from 27 November 2023 to 1 December 2023. To mark this occasion, below we discuss the Australian government’s latest tactics for keeping scammers on the ropes.
How does the takedown capability work?
ASIC has engaged a third-party provider called Netcraft Ltd (Netcraft) through an open tender process to remove or limit access on the internet to investment scam and phishing websites. The engagement with Netcraft is a $2.316 million contract from 30 June 2023 to 2 July 2024 for the “Provision of Website Takedown Service”.
This engagement follows a three-week trial with Netcraft in 2022 by both the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) and ASIC. In July 2022, the ACCC reported that it had submitted over 300 websites to Netcraft and that “dozens” of takedowns had taken place “with dozens more pending”.
Netcraft describes itself as a provider of cybercrime disruption services, including takedown services. Netcraft’s takedown service:
- uses automation to collect evidence of malicious content
- identifies the entities involved in the infrastructure for the content – for example, the hosting providers, domain registrars, webmasters, and social media platforms
- determines the most effective way to send a notification to that entity, such as via email, API, private contact, or otherwise, and
- sends a notification to the entity with detailed evidence of the malicious content.
Netcraft both takes down websites that ASIC reports to them, and proactively identifies and reports websites for takedown to ASIC.
Making use of third party services such as Netcraft means that regulators like the ACCC and ASIC do not need to use legislative processes such as section 313 of the Telecommunications Act 1997 (Cth), which allows Commonwealth entities to require providers to block websites. That legislative process can be burdensome because it is subject to use guidelines, including publishing requests to the public and notifying requests to the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA).
The use of Netcraft to facilitate website takedowns also brings ASIC and the ACCC in line with overseas authorities. For example, Netcraft is a UK based company which provides the same service to the UK’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC). Unlike the broader application of ASIC’s takedown capability, the NCSC’s takedown service focuses on URLs associated with UK government themed phishing attacks.
The National Anti-Scams Centre
ASIC and the ACCC work with a number of government agencies to take down investment scam websites that have been reported to them. These efforts are coordinated by NASC, which was established within the ACCC on 1 July 2023 to coordinate government, law enforcement and the private sector to combat scams.
NASC’s activities include:
- Running the ACCC’s Scamwatch service, which collects reports about scams. NASC uses scam reports to monitor trends and educate the public on new and emerging scams, helping people spot and avoid scams.
- Collecting and sharing intelligence across government and private sectors. NASC shares reports with other government agencies or law enforcement to investigate scammers or to stop them from reaching people in Australia. It also shares reports with the Australian Financial Crimes Exchange, a not-for-profit organisation sharing financial data and intelligence to assist banks and the financial sector to identify scam accounts or transactions and disrupt scams.
- Coordinating the first investment scam “fusion cell” established on 3 July 2023. A fusion cell is a limited-time taskforce. It is jointly led by the ACCC and ASIC and includes representatives from banks, telecommunications industry and digital platforms. In this instance it is used to identify methods for disrupting investment scams to minimise scam losses.
Earlier this week, NASC released its first Quarterly Report which showed that scam losses decreased by 16% in its first 4 months of operation compared to the same quarter in 2022, and a decrease in losses over most scam types compared with the previous quarter. Losses to scams in September 2023 were the lowest reported in a single month since October 2021.
This “fight club” of government agencies, industry experts and third party services is part of a “Fighting Scams” initiative by the Australian government to protect Australians from financial harm.