Reports suggest that Australian individuals are among the prime targets of a sophisticated cryptocurrency call-center scam network believed to be managed by crime lords based in Israel.
The latest raid on four Serbian call centers and 11 residences by German, Serbian, Bulgarian, and Cypriot authorities uncovered evidence that Australians were among the top countries being targeted. The news was first reported by The Australian on Feb. 23.
The operation led to the arrest of 15 people and the seizure of $1.46 million in cryptocurrencies, among other items.
According to the investigators, the scammers used social media advertisements to lure victims and offer them promising investment opportunities with high returns.
Private investigation firms further claimed that the country’s wealth combined with authorities’ unwillingness or inability to investigate online investment fraud has made Australia vulnerable to international crime syndicates behind the scams.
Mark Solomons, a senior investigator at IFW Global, a private intelligence firm, explained that Australians are often “friendly” and “open-minded,” making them more likely to pursue online relationships if the “right buttons are pressed.”
“There are Israelis getting very, very rich by ripping off Australians and sucking superannuation and retirement savings out of the Australian economy.”
Mark Solomons, senior investigator at IFW Global
The senior investigator further claims that much of the stolen cryptocurrency is being used to fund the lavish lifestyles of the scammers, who are said to be flying around in private jets, buying yachts, and purchasing significant assets, including real estate and fancy cars.
While Europol has reported that $3.1 million was stolen by the multinational operation, they believe the actual figure “may be in the hundreds of millions of euros.”
In comparison to other “well-resourced” nations, Solomons urged the Australian government to increase its enforcement efforts at the state, federal, and international levels to make targeting Australian investors less appealing to these scammers.
Enforcement efforts by the Australian government
According to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), Australians lost $568.6 million to scams in 2022, with crypto payments accounting for $221 million of those losses. Victims lost an additional $53.4 million in the first month of 2023.
Australian securities regulator ASIC issued a report in November detailing the top-10 ways to spot a crypto scam. The ACCC also began trialing a cybersecurity service in July that automatically takes down scam websites, which saw some early success with several crypto scam sites being taken offline relatively quickly.