How Belinda Lofts & Optus Are Stopping Scammers With Tech

Melbourne, Australia - August 6, 2015: A woman walks past an Optus store on Bourke St. Optus is the second largest telecommunications company in Australia.

Online scammers are akin to a modern-day plague of locusts, with estimates showing that they lift billions of dollars out of the Australian economy every year.

However, help is out there for consumers and businesses with Belinda Lofts, Optus’ senior director of mobile data service engineering, spearheading the fight back. WLT sat down with Lofts to hear how the telco is putting its tech smarts to work to safeguard everyday Australians.

WLT: Why are scammers proving such a scourge in Australia?

Belinda Lofts: Scammers are global, sophisticated outfits. According to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, scammers stole $3.1b from Australians last year.

At Optus, we have implemented a number of tools and capabilities to identify and block scams.

However, as soon as we develop an effective firewall rule to block a scam, the fraudsters move on to other techniques and other types of communications.

Belinda Lofts, senior director of mobile data service engineering, Optus

Belinda Lofts, senior director of mobile data service engineering, Optus

It is not a problem Australia can solve on its own, but Optus is well connected to the world’s best threat intelligence, detection and blocking capabilities and we are working hard to give our customers the best protections possible.

Optus utilises global partners to ensure that we have strong blocking capabilities. We utilise machine learning and artificial intelligence to grow our capabilities — and we use intelligence gathered from all over the world.

WLT: What is Optus doing to help customers win the battle against scammers? Can you tell us a bit more about the Call Stop initiative?

BL: Optus is doing many things to try and protect customers from scammers involving, SMS, voice and internet protections as well as threat reductions that include multi-factor authentication, traffic analysis to identify suspicious SMS time and volume patterns and tightening SMS and call firewalls.

Optus protections have blocked almost 80 million SMS in the last year and 320 million scam calls since December 2020. We are currently blocking close to 5 million calls per month across international links and almost 8 million SMS.

On top of these initiatives, Call Stop is an Australian-first innovative new technology Optus has launched recently in partnership with the Australian Financial Crimes Exchange and the major banks.

It works by blocking scam SMS and emails sent by fraudsters to trick their intended victims into calling the number contained in the message by suggesting that their “funds have been frozen” or to “confirm a large transaction has just taken place”.

When the customer calls the number in the scam message, instead of the call going to the scammer, Call Stop intercepts the call and takes it to a recorded message alerting the customer to the scam. The Call Stop partners share data to ensure that the call-back number is identified as a scam number.

WLT: You’ve been with Optus in your current stint for eight years now and have risen to your senior director role. What has the company done to help talented women like yourself rise through the ranks?

BL: Optus has been, and still is a wonderful place to grow my career. I love working with tech and have been able to expand into different roles within the Information Technology and Networks divisions.

Along the way, I have been part of Women in Leadership Programs which aim to accelerate the future pipeline of woman leaders. We also have an amazing Employee Network dedicated to women called ‘Elevate’, which aspires to create an inclusive Optus community that empowers and elevates women through meaningful connections and opportunities to develop, grow and create impact.

WLT: You joined Optus for the first time in 2005, what has changed since then in the business and for women in tech?

BL: The growth and change for women in tech over the years has been exciting.

At Optus, we have targeted initiatives to build digital and technical skillsets not only of women but all our amazing team members which are delivered through Optus U. One of the other key things we do is partner with external organisations such as Vogue Codes, Females in Information Technology and Telecommunications and Women in Technology. These are great platforms to ensure our tech talent has access to the skills and forums to keep growing and learning.

WLT: What advice would you give to young women in the sector in order to progress as you have?

BL: My advice would be simply to always challenge yourself, keep learning and never be afraid to step into new roles. A career is a journey, so always be open to new possibilities. This simple philosophy has allowed me to work in many different industries from banking to Telco, Mining, Insurance and Tech Companies across a wide variety of roles.

I am also very passionate about female leaders in Tech, so if I could say anything to inspire the next generation of female tech leaders it would be that your diversity of thought, talent, and expertise is exactly what the industry needs! If you constantly push beyond what you thought you were capable of, there’s no limit to what you can achieve.

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