Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman Bruce Billson interview with Tom Connell.
24 November 2023
Banks have introduced sweeping changes in a bid to better protect customers against costly scams. Almost $430 million have already been lost to scams this year. Joining me live is Bruce Billson, Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman. Bruce, thanks as ever for your time. I think this is something people won't realise existed previously, that it doesn't matter what you put in the name, it can be absolutely anything basically, if the numbers are a bank account, the money goes out there. I know a family member that's transferred money accidentally the wrong way, they got a number wrong, and it still goes out there. How has this taken so long?
Some of the banks have actually had more advanced technology Tom than others and put a little cautionary flag where some of the transactions don't quite ring true. But this announcement on the eve of Scam Awareness Week is really welcome. It is one step of many needed to protect citizens and small and family businesses from some of these cyber threats.
And a really common one is where a cyber hacker gets into a business's software. They go to issue an invoice but the hacker has silently changed the banking details. It looks all quite legit. The customer at the other end is expecting the invoice. It's coming in the shape and style and with the price, the value on it, you expect, and people just go and pay it without realising it's been compromised by substituting a hacker’s BSB and account numbers. That payment is made and within moments it then gets usually shunted offshore and converted to crypto.
So some of these announcements are really good. This is a model that operates in the UK. The banks also have come together to think about pause mechanisms if someone oddly changes authorities for payment or things of that kind, which might be the consequence of someone bribing them or maybe forcing them to do things they didn't want, or that someone's accounts had been taken over by a hacker.
That example is a really common one, that you spoke of. Intercepting, getting between the email getting sent out by the business and the person receiving it, which then of course often will put a business out because the individual says, I got sent an invoice from your email, it's not my fault I paid the invoice and that leaves the small business out of pocket.
And again, it seems like such a simple change because they don't match up. Even if there was an issue and they’ve changed bank account names, it's better to sort that out rather than have the money go the wrong way. And as you say, in an instant the money's gone. Are there any changes on the horizon around that? Because on the one hand we want money instantly, right, and business want to get paid. But sometimes you realise the mistake’s made an hour later, but you can't do anything about it. Is there an element around, we almost need a delay back in there, depending on payments?
And that's part of the announcement that the banking industry has made, which we welcome. Building in some pauses where money is moving around there is a chance to recover. Using the example we just spoke about, many of our small business customers work with the Australian Financial Complaints Authority, and the banks would try and do whatever they can after the event. But if the funds are already gone, there's really limited options. So those ideas about pausing where there's a variation in authority to deduct or to make payments. Even big numbers Tom that bank hasn't seen the customer engage with before. These are the things that are being built in, you know, checks and safeguards on top of the practical things that we can all do, and particularly for small business.
We keep saying let’s hope people do the best they can do in their space. The banks have stepped up, that's great. The telcos are running what are called clean pipes initiatives where they cut off nefarious traffic wherever they see it. But also, for individuals, you know, thinking twice about who you share account access information with. I know our assistance team here have had a few cases where someone's been duped into believing the contact they were having through emails and the like was someone that they knew and that they could share access details to accounts or myGov and that would be okay. Turned out not to be the case.
There are two messages in that: careful about sharing any of those things designed to protect you with anybody. And then secondly, what steps can we take to mitigate the harm and the risk and the consequence.
So that's what's good about this. It's also what's good about the government's announcement earlier in the week with more help for small business in this space.
Bruce, 30 seconds or so, how is small business doing overall?
Challenging economy right now, Tom. Plenty of headwinds out there. Margins are tight. A lot of people feeling what we know for citizens are cost of living pressures, they’re input costs for small business. And as budgets tighten, people are less inclined to engage in discretionary spending. Retail's probably going to be a little bit down over Christmas. But as you would see, the sales coming up over this weekend are quite timely. And you know, one thing you can count on Tom is the perpetual optimism of enterprising men and women. So, they're still up in about, but probably more headwinds than there is wind in their sales right now.
They need a bit of Bruce Billson optimism and can-do spirit maybe. Bruce always appreciate your time thank you.