Australian residents have been identified as the primary targets of a sophisticated network of cryptocurrency call-center scammers — suspected to be run by Israel-based crime bosses.
Evidence uncovered after a full-scale raid of four Serbian call centers and 11 residences by Serbian, German, Bulgarian and Cypriot authorities found that Australians were among the top countries being targeted. The news came from a Feb. 23 report by The Australian.
The raids saw fifteen people arrested and $1.46 million in cryptocurrencies seized.
Dramatic police raids in Belgrade, Bulgaria and Cyprus, following investigations in Germany, have uncovered evidence Australia is in the top tier of countries being targeted: https://t.co/zWv7I3N5Kg pic.twitter.com/k98CPDxwz7
— The Australian (@australian) February 23, 2023
According to the report, scammers from these call centers allegedly used advertisements on social media to lure in victims and offer promising investment opportunities with lucrative returns.
Private investigation firms told the outlet that Australians were particularly sought after by scammers because of their relative wealth and a purported history of weak investigative efforts by federal and state authorities:
“Australia’s wealth combined with a long history of state and federal authorities being unwilling or unable to investigate online investment fraud has made the country a sitting duck for the international crime syndicates behind the scams.”
Mark Solomons, Senior Investigator at IFW Global, a private intelligence firm, explained that because many Australians are “friendly” and “open-minded,” they’re more likely to pursue online relationships — particularly “if the right buttons are pressed.”
“Australia and Canada vie for the top spot. They are rich countries with a low likelihood of a disciplined investigation or detection.“
Solomons said much of the stolen cryptocurrencies are being used to fund the scammer’s lavish lifestyles:
“There are Israelis getting very, very rich by ripping off Australians and sucking superannuation and retirement savings out of the Australian economy.”
“We’re talking about individuals who fly around in private jets, who have significant assets, real estate, fancy cars and cash. They are traveling freely around the world, they’re buying yachts,” Solomons added.
While Europol has reported $3.1 million to have been stolen by the multinational operation, they believe the true figure “may be in the hundreds of millions of euros.”
Related: Australia bolsters crypto watchdogs in ‘multi-stage’ plan to fight scams
Compared to other “well-resourced” nations, Solomons urged the Australian government to up its enforcement efforts at the state, federal and international levels to make targeting Australian investors less appealing to these scammers.
While some reports say Australians lost up to $2 billion from investment scams in 2021, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) reported Australians to have lost $323.7 million, which increased a whopping 75.6% to $568.6 million in 2022, according to the consumer watchdog’s Scamwatch database.
$221 million of those scam losses came through the use of crypto payments, according to the ACCC.
Victims have also lost an additional $53.4 million in the first month of 2023.
To fight the issue, the Australian Securities Investment Commission released a list of the “top-10 ways to spot a crypto scam” in November to raise awareness of the issue.
In July 2022, the ACCC began trialing a cybersecurity service that automatically takes down scam websites. The trial saw early success, with several crypto scam sites being knocked offline relatively quickly.