Scam syndicate arrested in Villawood Detention Centre

On Friday 14th September it was reported that some scammers who were living in Villawood Detention Centre had been arrested.
Seven people, male and females have been arrested for Identity Fraud, Romance Scams, business email scams and fraudulent sale of goods, with income from the frauds of over AUS$3m. All 7 people arrested are either Nigerian or Nigerian dual nationals. 
The money has been sent on to Nigeria and is unlikely to be recovered. The press coverage has sensationalised the fact that these people had over 16 mobile phones and additional SIM cards between them, whilst living in a Detention Centre.

A number of observations can be  made:

1. It is great to see some local arrests for these scams, as scams are mostly instigated from overseas and the police do not have jurisdiction to address the criminal nature of the fraud. These arrests mean that some of the reports from victims that are being made to sites like ACORN and Scamwatch are being followed up on. This is the first real evidence we have seen that police are taking reports seriously and checking them out, and often victims say that they feel their reports are useless and seem to fall into a black hole. Unfortunately, we are still not able to see many police actions where the perpetrators reside overseas.

The alleged leader of the scam ring was arrested at Villawood Detention Centre. Supplied: NSW Police to ABC

2. Even though the arrests are within Australia, these are Nigerian people. I know that scams that are being run out of Malaysia often also involve Nigerians. I do not want to disparage all Nigerians – there are ‘baddies’ in every culture – but I am very wary of the Nigerian diaspora, the spread of Nigerians with criminal intent into different countries, and the ability of these people to then use the scam skills they may have learned back home in Nigeria to continue to target ways to make easy money from vulnerable others. These arrests show that this is happening.

3. Over the years of talking to victims, a number have said to me that the phones being used to call them have had accounts within Australia. I had no way to understand this, and had been skeptical of their assertions. I thought it was just the ability to buy phone numbers anywhere in the world. I admit I was wrong. These arrests show that it is quite possible that local phone numbers and connections were used by scammers who are within Australia, maybe even this group of 7 that have been arrested.

4. These arrests confirm that these scams are being undertaken by a team of people, a syndicate. It is not just one lone scammer who has targeted a vulnerable person, but it is deliberate criminal behavior by a team of perpetrators targeting multiple individuals and business victims.

5. The scammers only had phones, though 16 of them. It shows how much can be done with the smallest of devices. I would also say that it shows a high level of sophistication, particularly with the ability to “spoof” emails to make fake requests for fund transfer look legitimate to businesses. No wonder the subsequent news/media reports are highlighting the need for businesses to have a two-step verification of any changes to fund transfer details.

6. I have commented on the increasing IT sophistication of scammers, and mentioned hacking in my previous posts. Though we don’t know the full details of this case, the fact that the scammers can ‘spoof’ emails, and steal identities shows that the IT skills they are using are at the highest level.  Police skills are needed to match this level of activity and counter any other local scammers.

7. Though my focus has been predominately on romance scams, the fact that this team was engaged in Identity Fraud, Romance Scams, business email scams and sale of goods shows that scammers are diversified in their approach and their capability. Dr Cassandra Cross has highlighted in her articles that scammers can tailor the scam to the victim,  and can sometimes change the nature of the scam within a scam. She reminds us that to try and create scam warning messages based on single scam story-lines will be ineffectual and that we need more concise messaging such as to not to send money under any circumstances.

8. Again we are reminded that these people will use whatever techniques work to manipulate people into parting with their money. What they are doing is unconscionable, involves lying and psychological manipulation as well as being criminal fraud.

I look forward to reading more about this case as it unfolds.

Victim stories as a prevention strategy

I woke up with an insight the other night.  I was part of a group brainstorming with Consumer Affairs Victoria. They want to do something about romance scams and were looking at intervention points.  The insight I had is that one of the biggest resources for prevention messages is scam victims, yet it is virtually untapped.  I’ve been saying for some time that more needs to be done for romance scam victims.  There is currently very little done for or with them. Yet they have great stories to tell.

They are encouraged to report their scam to ScamWatch or ACORN,  and they might get an automated response back with no identifying name, but to the victim, there is very little indication of anything else happening.  They are left alone to deal with the grief, the shame, and the often devastating financial circumstances.  They suffer through depression, low self esteem, lack of self worth, as well as sometimes suicidal thoughts and actions.  I know this from personal experience, and from the many contacts I have with victims who tell me this, saying they are still in this state even many years after they have been scammed. Continue reading Victim stories as a prevention strategy

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A stolen photo mystery

Yesterday I received an email from a person on my mailing list with a message saying they had found my photo in a scammers profile.  Oh what joy!  My picture on a scam site under the name of Elizabeth Edwin.

(See Updates  for this mystery at the bottom of this post)

This notification led me on a voyage of discovery as I followed the mystery down a number of paths.

Firstly I contacted the site for female fake profiles –  https://www.stop-scammers.com/ to let them know that the photo was of me.  It was a photo taken of me by the Herald Sun in July 2015 that I also use on my Media Presence page. I received an automated email back, but it will be interesting to see what they say about this.  Names of the real people behind the photos is not divulged on the site that I could see.  This site has thousands of stolen photos and fake profiles with other supporting information about scammer activity.  I only used the free service, which is a bit limited, but it looks like a comprehensive site. Continue reading A stolen photo mystery

Claim remission of scammed funds from Western Union now!

Quick update…

Its Official!

I have received notification from both Stay Smart Online and ACORN that its now possible to claim for losses because of scams from Western Union, but claims MUST be in by 12 FEBRUARY 2018.

Department of Justice Seal

Western Union has entered into agreements with the US Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission to make $586 million (USD) available to victims. You do not need to be a US citizen or resident to make a claim.

You will need to provide details and evidence of each transaction to the US Department of Justice (DoJ), and they say it may take some time to process, but at least we will be on the list.
The Department of Justice say, in their FAQs:

The amount you get will probably be a percentage of the amount you lost minus any refund you have already gotten.
Your payment will be based only on the amount of the money transfer. You cannot recover collateral expenses such as Western Union fees, incidental losses, or transfers sent through other companies.
It will still take some time—potentially a year or more—to process and verify petitions, and determine who is eligible to get a payment.

To access the remission forms, and access other information about this, go here.  Good Luck.  I will certainly be doing this.

PS: getting a notification from ACORN about this shows that it is useful to make reports to ACORN.

Latest Targeting Scams 2017 report from ACCC

The latest report out from the ACCC called Targeting Scams 2017  came out on Monday 15 May with the 2016 figures.  In the area of romance scams the figures ($25.4 million reported lost) have not changed much, up slightly from 2015, but still under the 2014 level.  The report indicates some moves in the right direction, but much more effort in many directions is still needed.

Unfortunately, the figures reported cannot be regarded as a true level. It is generally acknowledged reporting is only at about 10% – 12% of actual cases. I was interviewed by Catherine Gregory of ABC News for The World Today program about the latest report and media release. Listen to this here.  (PS: alsohere’s my comments from last year’s report.) Continue reading Latest Targeting Scams 2017 report from ACCC

Western Union admits that its system facilitated scammers

Western Union (USA) admits that its system facilitated scammers, and puts money aside to recompense victims. What does this mean for us in Australia? How can you see details of your financial transactions?

In a media release from the Federal Trade Commission (USA) posted on 19 January 2017, it was announced that not only did Western Union admit its culpability in “willfully failing to maintain an effective anti-money laundering program and aiding and abetting wire fraud” but also that it has forfeited $586 million so it can recompense victims of these frauds.

Whilst the cited cases are based around sending money to China for people or drug trafficking, and aiding and abetting offshore gambling, the terms of the overall judgement, taken jointly by a large number of US agencies, are much more general than just this.  The problems with Western Union, according to them included: Continue reading Western Union admits that its system facilitated scammers

Different types of romance scams

The more contacts I have from people who have been scammed the more I see the different types of scams that are being carried out.  The amount of ‘romance’ can vary.  There are a number of types of activities that have building a relationship as a primary focus.  You will find these listed on the governmental sites that talk about scams as Online Scams or Fraud, and this is a more generic description. Only when you read the detail does it make it clear this relates to what is commonly known as ‘romance’ or ‘dating’ scams.

In my blog I have focused on scams that use romance as the hook to then enable the scammer to exhort money.  The contact mechanism is often dating sites, but can also be any membership site or social media such as Facebook or even communication mechanisms such as Skype or Viber. Whilst dating sites have the benefit (to the scammer) of legitimacy and expectation of making contact, because that is the purpose of the site, other mechanisms, like on Facebook, the scammer is putting out a ‘cold’ request for contact with no automatic expectation, except social convention and politeness perhaps, of a response.  They must be successful though, because they keep doing it, and I know from victims who respond thinking “its just friendship, it can’t hurt”, that whatever lure they are using, it works. Continue reading Different types of romance scams

Police are not doing enough about scams!

Australians lose millions of dollars through romance scams and there is no evidence that police are doing anything. Here are the responses to my queries to the relevant agencies.  Victims want justice, the police don’t seem to be taking any notice.  This is not good enough!

My last blog questioning what the police are doing to investigate scams has generated some interesting responses. A promise for more information from a senior member of the Victorian police; a response from the ACCC to my query; and someone’s FOI request has given a standard response from the Australian Institute of Criminology (ACIC).  Since July the ACIC has had responsibility for ACORN. Continue reading Police are not doing enough about scams!

What are our police forces doing about romance scammers??

When someone contacts me saying they have been scammed and what should they do one of my first suggestions to them is to report the scam to ACORN (Australian Cybercrime Online Reporting Network).  I am an Ambassador for them, so that’s logical, right?  But what does ACORN do?

I was recently contacted by someone in this situation, and her story, is, according to the research by Cassandra Cross mentioned in my last post, not that unusual.  She communicated with me over a number of days, complaining that no-one in the various police forces would take her call, and that she was continually referred on to someone else, who then referred her on again.  This included state police, federal police, and even Interpol, who could work on her behalf, but only if contacted by the relevant local agency (police).  But they weren’t interested in even taking her details. Continue reading What are our police forces doing about romance scammers??

Victim Blaming endemic in Romance Scams

[How victim blaming applies to romance scams. The latest research from Dr. Cassandra Cross explains how scam  victims are blamed,  how they are impacted and the influence on the reporting of scams.  Who you should not tell about your scam, from Dr Brené Brown.]

The term ‘victim blaming’ has come to the fore recently in relation to photos of schoolgirls being published online, and one school’s response to this.  As with rape and other sexual assaults in the past, the victim (schoolgirls) were blamed for their actions, clothing, etc inciting their abuse.  The same happens with victims of romance scams.

Victim blaming occurs when the victim of a crime or any wrongful act is held entirely or partially responsible for the harm that befell them, according to Wikipedia. RationalWiki describes further: “Blaming the victim describes the attempt to escape responsibility by placing the blame for the crime or other abuse at the hands of the victim. Classically this is the rapist claiming his victim was “asking for it” by, for example, wearing a short skirt.

The past years has seen an increasing understanding that rape victims are not to blame for their rape, no matter what they wear, and women walking through parks, or on their way home after a night out are not inciting their sexual assault simply by being out. The change in understand has been brought about by a concerted effort by women’s groups raising  and successfully addressing the spectre of the sexual double standard involved. Continue reading Victim Blaming endemic in Romance Scams