ASIC shuts down nearly 3,500 scam websites as Longo pledges to step up work

Australian regulator says more significant regulatory and surveillance work to come.

Close to 3,500 investment scam websites have been shut down by the Commission in its attempt to “sharpen its efforts to protect Australians from digitally enabled misconduct”.

Its scam website takedown capability was launched as part of the Australian Government’s Fighting Scams initiative in July 2023, and ASIC Chair Joe Longo emphasizes the need to stop scams, especially in a time of cost-of-living crises where scammers take advantage of already distressed individuals.

In 2022, Australians reported losses of A$1.5 billion ($1 billion) to investment scams. “That’s why ASIC is stopping investment scams at the source of their promotion, removing them from the internet before they can lure in unsuspecting consumers.”

“ASIC is in courts and boardrooms across Australia almost every single day of the week.”

Joe Longo, Chair, ASIC

Since the work commenced, a total of 1,490 investment scam and phishing websites have been taken down, and a further 350 are in the process of being taken down.

“We’ve already examined the way major banks detect, prevent and respond to scams, resulting in ASIC setting expectations that all financial institutions take steps to improve their approaches. We have now turned our attention to a broader range of banks and superannuation trustees to ensure they’re doing all they can to protect their members and customers from predatory scammers,” said the regulator.

Nearly A$60m in penalties

In ASIC’s latest enforcement and regulatory update, the Commission highlights its investment scams disruption work and other surveillance activities to prevent consumer harm and to keep market integrity. ASIC statistics from the latter half of 2023 show:

  • 83 commenced investigations;
  • 15 months – average length of civil investigations;
  • 24 months – average length of criminal investigations;
  • 80% successfully completed civil litigations and criminal litigations;
  • A$59.8m ($39m) in civil penalties imposed by courts;
  • 9 criminal convictions;
  • 347 surveillances completed;
  • 19 new civil proceedings filed; and
  • 19 new criminal litigations commenced (individuals charged).

“ASIC is in courts and boardrooms across Australia almost every single day of the week,” Longo said.

In November 2023, ASIC release enforcement priorities for 2024, and Longo announced that the Commission will target misconduct in the superannuation sector. It will “look to take strong, targeted enforcement action in the coming months and into 2024”.

Other new priorities include the handling of insurance claims, compliance with financial hardship obligations, and the reportable situation regime.  

“Australians can continue to expect significant regulatory and surveillance work from ASIC in the coming months. We are scrutinising the way lenders comply with their hardship obligations, how banks support First Nations consumers to access low-fee accounts, and how superannuation trustees deliver important member services, such as how they handle death benefits claims,” Longo said.