Scammers Target Australians in Cryptocurrency Call Center Scheme

It has come to light that people of Australia are the principal targets of a sophisticated multinational network of con artists that operate out of call centers focused on bitcoin. The network is believed to have originated in China. The heart of operations for the network may be found on the continent of Australia. It is commonly believed that the administration of this network is being handled by criminal syndicates that have their headquarters in Israel.

As part of a large-scale operation, law enforcement officers from the countries of Serbia, Germany, Bulgaria, and Cyprus carried out house searches in a total of eleven locations across the country of Serbia, including four call centers. These locations included the country’s capital city of Belgrade. Officials from the island nation of Cyprus were responsible for the operation’s coordination. During the course of this operation, they discovered evidence showing that Australians were among the citizens of all of the other countries who were exposed to the highest degree of examination. This information suggests that Australians were among those subjected to this level of inspection. The material was made available to the general public on February 23 via the dissemination of an article that had been authored by The Australian and published on that day.

Fifteen individuals and about 1.46 million dollars’ worth of cryptocurrencies were seized into custody as a direct result of the operations, which were carried out as a direct consequence of the acts.

It would seem that con artists who work out of these contact centers are using advertisements on social media in an effort to persuade fresh victims into falling for their schemes. They achieve this goal by ensuring prospective investors that any investments they make would result in a significant return on the cash that they have invested. The findings of the research reveal that individuals do engage in this activity, which testifies to the notion that it is prevalent since it indicates that people do participate.

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Australia’s Government is Bolstering Its Market Regulator’s Digital Asset

As part of its “multi-stage strategy” to cracking down on cryptocurrencies and ensuring that crypto companies provide accurate risk disclosures, the Australian government is increasing the size of the digital asset team that works under its market regulator.

The new restrictions are intended to safeguard consumers who are dealing with bitcoin, as described in a joint statement released on February 2 by the Assistant Treasurer of Australia, Stephen Jones, and the Australian Treasurer, Jim Chalmers.

The treasurers said that the multi-stage strategy would entail three components, these components being the strengthening of enforcement, the strengthening of consumer protection, and the establishment of a framework for its token mapping reform.

The Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) has announced that they would be “upping enforcement efforts” as well as increasing the number of their digital assets division. This is one of the most significant adjustments.

According to Chalmers and Jones, the ASIC would have a primary emphasis on ensuring that customers are adequately informed of the potential hazards posed to them by crypto product and service providers.

In the meanwhile, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), the country’s competition watchdog, will soon be receiving new tools from the government to assist it in protecting consumers against frauds using cryptocurrencies. The total amount of money lost to scams using cryptocurrency payments was recorded to be $221 million in 2022.

The ACCC will use the new technology, which will be in the form of a real-time data-sharing platform, to detect and prevent frauds using cryptocurrencies.

When a framework is finalised to regulate the licencing and custody of digital assets, consumer protection will also be strengthened. This will “ensure consumers are protected from avoidable business failures or from the misuse of their assets by service providers,” according to the official description of the goal of the framework.

However, the implementation of this framework won’t begin until the middle of 2023, and it’s likely going to take a significant amount of time until it’s codified into law.

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Aussie competition watchdog investigating Meta over crypto scam ads

Australia’s consumer and competition (ACCC) watchdog is investigating Facebook’s parent company Meta for a long running series of fraudulent cryptocurrency advertisements of the platform.

The news comes just a day after Cointelegraph reported that billionaire businessman Andrew “Twiggy” Forrest was pursuing criminal action against the social media giant for allegedly serving users crypto scam ads and fake articles which used his name and likeness.

Numerous other high profile celebrities from Hugh Jackman to Nicole Kidman have been fraudulently employed to draw users into investment scams.

The ACCC alleges that Meta allowed the crypto scammers to breach Australian consumer law, defrauding victims hundreds of thousands of dollars.

In Feb 3 comments to The Australian, ACCC chair Rod Sims said that although their investigation shares similarities with Forrest’s case, the “ACCC’s investigation is separate and concerns different questions of law.”

While Forrest’s case concerns potential breaches of Australia’s Commonwealth Criminal Code, the ACCC will be examining whether Meta has “raised concerns” under the Australia Consumer Law.

“Like Dr Forrest, we consider that Meta should be doing more to detect, prevent and remove false or misleading advertisements from the Facebook platform so that consumers are not misled and scammers are prevented from reaching potential victims.”

Forrest claims that by failing to take sufficient steps to eliminate the scam from being shared on its platform, Meta is not only in breach of Australia’s money-laundering laws, but also behaved in a “criminally reckless” manner.

He will initially bring his case to the West Australia Magistrates Court on March 28, with a committal hearing expected later in the year.

He also launched a simultaneous civil proceeding with the Superior Court of California last September, seeking injunctive relief. The case is still pending, with the date of the civil case yet to be set.

In 2020, the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) issued a warning on fake celebrity-endorsed crypto ads, including Jackman, Kidman and even Waleed Aly.

Other celebrities including Elon Musk, Bill Gates and Richard Branson have also had their images stolen to front crypto scams.

Australian Facebook users have reported losing hundreds of thousands to the scam, including one alleged victim who told The Australian that they thought the scam was legitimate because it featured Forrest.

“Andrew Forrest is an icon for millions of Australians and you hold him in high regard, anything involving him you‘d think is legitimate because it’s coming out in public through Facebook,” they said.

Related: Aussie billionaire sues Facebook over crypto scams with AG’s consent

In 2019, Forrest was among several Australian celebrities, including Kate Winslet, who were falsely quoted as giving testimony for a fraudulent cryptocurrency.

One version of the scam quoted the celebs in fake mainstream news articles advertising a fake Bitcoin investment platform.

As reported by Cointelegraph in Aug 2021, investment scams cost Australian investors more than $50.5 million in the first six months of 2021, with crypto scams contributing to more than 50% of the losses.

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Australians Lost Over $70M to Scam Crypto Investments in H1 2021

Australians have continued to count their losses as many have reportedly fallen victim to various investment scams.

According to a press release issued by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), Investment scams reported to Scamwatch have cost Australians over $70 million in the first half of this year. This figure surpassed the total reported losses for 2020, according to the ACCC.

The rise in the popularity of cryptocurrencies remains the most prevalent avenue through which Australians get scammed. Of these, the scams involving Bitcoin is the most dominant.

“Investment scams are more prevalent than ever, and scammers are capitalising on interest in cryptocurrency in particular,” ACCC Deputy Chair Delia Rickard said.

“More than half of the $70 million in losses were to cryptocurrency, especially through Bitcoin, and cryptocurrency scams were also the most commonly reported type of investment scam, with 2,240 reports.”

The proposition of investment opportunities with good earning potentials has always been the enticing factor used to lure investors. Capital lost from Bitcoin scams topped $25.7 million this year, compared to $17.8 million across 2020, representing an increase of 44 per cent.

“Be wary of investment opportunities with low risk and high returns. If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is,” Ms Rickard said.

According to the report, losses incurred through Ponzi schemes and imposter bond scams were also popular. According to the government-backed report platform, ScamWatch, approximately 58 and 400 reports were made for both scams routes in the first half of the year.

Fraudulent activities involving cryptocurrencies are ever prevalent. Beyond Australia, such frauds typically involve Initial Coin Offering scams, such as the case of AML BitCoin lobbyist Jack Abramoff. With the pseudo-anonymous nature of digital currencies, their use in cyber fraud is bound to keep being a threat. Many security firms are building tools to help monitor and expose these illicit activities.

Image source: Shutterstock

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Australians lost over $25 million to bogus crypto investments: Report

Investment scams in Australia cost investors more than 70 million Australian dollars ($50.5 million) in the first six months of 2021, with crypto scams contributing to more than 50% of the losses, according to Scamwatch data. 

As reported by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), Scamwatch data shows a 53.4% increase in investment scam-related reports, which is set to exceed $101 million by the end of this year.

Based on the 4,763 reports received in 2021 alone, ACCC deputy chair Delia Rickard stated that 2,240 of the complaints were related to cryptocurrency scams, and mainly attributed to Bitcoin (BTC).

Rickard said that scammers lure investors into using fake trading platforms and celebrity endorsements that promise high profitability. While the trading platforms initially allow investors to withdraw some profits using other victims’ assets, the scammer eventually stops unwary investors to withdraw their investments. “Be wary of investment opportunities with low risk and high returns. If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is,” she added.

Bitcoin-related investment scams in Australia have already exceeded $18.5 million, a steep increase of 44% compared to the total loss of nearly $12.8 million in 2020.

Other types of scams plaguing Australian investors included Ponzi scams, imposter bond scams and romance baiting scams.

Related: Australian regulator issues warning about unlicensed crypto businesses

On Aug. 18, the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) asked Australian citizens to stop investing in cryptocurrency through unlicensed entities.

The regulator has advised investors to choose financial institutions that hold an Australian Financial Services license. As per the reports received from investors, the ASIC noted that most of the losses related to crypto investments were due to “excessive leverage, platform outages, or unfair liquidations.”