Australia’s competition watchdog has partnered with the corporate regulator to trial automated takedowns of websites hosting phishing and other scams.

Australian Competition and Consumer Commission chair Gina Cass-Gottlieb revealed the trial at the Law Council of Australia’s 2022 consumer rights forum on Tuesday.

The trial, which began in late June, is focused on removing websites reported to the ACCC’s Scamwatch and the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC).

The ACCC is using a countermeasures service offered by UK-based Netcraft, which has provided the same service to the UK’s National Cyber Security Centre for four years.

The internet services company also claims to perform takedowns for four of the ten most phished companies.

Cass-Gottlieb said “more than 300 malicious websites targeting Australians” have been submitted to Netcraft in the last three weeks, resulting in dozens of takedowns.

Many of these websites were “phishing sites impersonating Australian businesses and government authorities”, she said.

Other websites related to “puppy scams, shoe scams, cryptocurrency investment scams and tech support scams”.

“Direct protection of consumers through disrupting scam websites at their source is a powerful addition to arming consumers with knowledge about scams,” Cass-Gottlieb said.

“I am very pleased the ACCC is conducting this work.”

Cass-Gottlieb acknowledged the private sector’s work to “effectively identifying and disrupting scams”, though said there was still more to do.

“We note Industry Codes are still being developed in many areas, but in any event organisations should already be taking the following steps in relation to phishing scam prevention,” she said.

“Organisations know when they are a regular target of impersonation by scammers.

“Organisations should actively monitor for, warn about, and request the removal of websites impersonating their brand.

“Complaining of a branding or copyright violation to a website hosting provider is fast and easily proven relative to, for example, the ACCC requesting a website’s removal for not delivering goods after customer payment.

“We also expect organisations to be monitoring their own platforms, services, and transactions for scams.”

Cass-Gottlieb also used her keynote to call out carriers not blocking scam call traffic, despite the introduction of the Reducing Scam Calls Code in December 2020.

The code has resulted in a 50 percent reduction in scam call reports to the ACCC so far in 2022, with new SMS scam-fighting rules also introduced last week.

“I note… that some carriers are responsible for a disproportionate amount of the scam traffic not being blocked,” she said.

“Scammers will always target the point of least resistance and so it is important that each carrier does its part to ensure all our international gateways are blocking known scam and spam traffic.

“We also encourage leaders in the telecommunications sector to share their approaches and successes with others in the industry to assist in making Australia the hardest target for scammers.”

The ACCC last month estimated total scam losses in 2021 at more than $2 billion, with investment scams ($701 million) and payment redirection scams ($227 million) the largest contributors.

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