Industry lobbying led to creation of task force to tackle scam calls

The Garda National Cyber Crime Bureau (GNCCB) last year reported a 15-fold increase in reports of phishing and smishing
Industry lobbying led to creation of task force to tackle scam calls

Criminals involved are sending up to 500,000 texts a time from a phone abroad.

A new task force aimed at tackling the scourge of scam calls and text messages was established by the Government last year on foot of lobbying by employers' group Ibec.

Telecommunications Industry Ireland, a branch of Ibec, held at least one meeting with the Department of Communications and lobbied Minister of State Ossian Smyth and an assistant secretary within the department on the matter.

Its intended outcome was the establishment of an industry-public service task force to devise an action plan on the escalating problem of fraudulent calls and SMS text messages.

A spokesperson for the department confirmed that following a meeting with telecommunication industry leaders late last year, an industry-led task force was established and was facilitated by the regulator ComReg.

In a statement, Telecommunications Industry Ireland said that its members take the issue very seriously and are working with government departments as well as ComReg, An Garda Síochána and the National Cyber Security Centre on the issue.

“Our members have invested significant resources in staff and IT systems to combat scam calls and texts,” it said.

Historically a bothersome but infrequent occurrence, scammers have continued to adapt and increase the ways in which they attempt to defraud the public - both in their sophistication and their frequency.

The Garda National Cyber Crime Bureau (GNCCB) last year reported a 15-fold increase between January 1 and August 15, 2021, compared to the same period in 2020, with 3,282 reports of phishing and smishing cases.

In an interview with the Irish Examiner last October, Detective Chief Superintendent Paul Cleary said the GNCCB has pushed the issue with telecom companies and is engaging with them on providing a solution to the problem.

Referencing the stats up to August, he said: “That’s a huge increase and I’d say even in the last six weeks, when you look at the amount of scam text messages, there has probably been a significant increase since then.” 

He said criminals involved are sending up to 500,000 texts a time from a phone abroad and appropriate firewalls should be put in place to address the matter.

In its statement, Telecommunications Ireland said its members “constantly monitor traffic patterns on their networks to detect surges that could be scam calls and put the appropriate countermeasures in place”.

“Both ComReg and An Garda Síochána have confirmed that without the efforts of the telecommunications operators this problem would be much worse,” it said. However, it is not always possible to then block the scammers.

It said: “When customers report scam calls, telecommunications operators review the scope to block the relevant number ranges.

“When the origin of the call or text is detected the relevant network operator is informed as only they can block this traffic at source; this traffic almost always originates abroad. 

Unfortunately, numbers are frequently ‘spoofed’, that is, disguised as Irish numbers, and this makes it virtually impossible to detect the point of origin.

It urged customers who receive such scam messages or calls to not respond or give any information and to report the incident to their telecoms provider and the gardaí, if appropriate.

In a statement, the Department of Communications spokesperson said that Minister Smyth is continuing to engage with key stakeholders in a bid to develop plans to reduce scam calls and messages.

“The investigation of fraudulent activity by criminals that might be carried out over telecoms networks is a matter for An Garda Síochána,” the spokesperson said.

“This taskforce is focused on telecoms and possible interventions that might be taken by that sector.”

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