Scam money goes to organised crime

We knew it, right? Scam money goes to international organised crime syndicates.  Well, to be truthful, that’s what we suspected, but did not have enough information as a lay-people to really know it for sure.  Now we do, after a lengthy expose on Australian ABC’s 4 Corners program called Meet the Scammers, Mon 11 Feb 2019, by journalist Sean Rubinsztein-Dunlop.

As well as information about the network behind an organised crime king-pin arrested in Canada in 2014, the program talks in depth to some ‘game boys’, some “entry level criminals” in Ghana, according to a Ghanaian police official about how and why they scam.

What is interesting about these ‘café boys’ is the ease with which they talk about their ‘business’ of scamming and how they justify scamming as a legitimate way to make a living and get ahead. They also refer to the colonisation of West Africa that took place in their great-great grandfather’s time, and how taking money from westerners is payback for this.

Professor Monica Whitty

Professor Monica Whitty, now at Melbourne University, describes scammers as “masters of manipulation” and the reporter shows sites which enable emerging scammers to learn the trade by buying proven scripts, getting documents or images photoshopped, acquiring bank accounts, getting help from those who have already proven it works.  This seeking for ‘best practice’ is mentioned several times, and seems to happen at the lowest and highest levels for everyone’s mutual benefit.  That’s everyone in the scamming business, not their ‘clients’ [ie, victims].

Identity theft and the setting up of fake online profiles based on stolen photos is the basis of these scams.  Even gender is not sacrosanct, with these young black ‘game boys’ portraying themselves as both men and women, and talking openly about online sex with both men and women ‘clients’.

One scary point the expose reveals is how romance scams are easily and often linked to money laundering and drug mules, showing several victims of these. This is where organised crime really comes into play, and a case with a criminal based at Villawood detention centre in 2014 is depicted. The more recent arrests at Villawood Detention Centre,  (see also my previous blog on this) was also mentioned.

Scamming, according to Deputy Commissioner Neil Gaughan of the Australian Federal Police is happening on an “industrial… global scale”, and figures of $12 Billion over 5 years was cited by an American commentator.  That’s US Dollars!  Everyone knows though that this is only the tip of the iceberg.

On the plus side is the fact that some arrests have happened, that finally the police internationally are seeing how big this is and how widely it is connected and are finally beginning to doing something about it.

As usual the devastation for victims is talked about, but nothing mentioned about the support scam victims need after the event.


Colonel Bryan Denny (Ret.)

One of the people profiled in the program is Colonel Bryan Denny (Ret.), who’s photo has been used on social media and dating sites for years.  He, together with Kathy Waters, who’s mother was a scam victim and have set up a support group http://www.advocatingforu.com/   and are seeking to change the 230 Communications Decency Act of 1996 to better combat identity theft in America. To support them, sign their petition here.

Well done to victims Chyrel Muzic and Peter Strand for also talking out about their scam stories. We need more victims to speak out.

Congratualtions Sean Rubinsztein-Dunlop on a great program.

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.