Michael Roddan and Jonathan Shapiro, 08 March 2021
Sophisticated British criminals exploited vulnerabilities in Australia’s search engine and cryptocurrency infrastructure to dupe small investors, lured by the promise of high-yield funds badged by some of the finance world’s most trusted brands.
The complex scheme involved stolen identities and fraudulent prospectuses that claimed to represent high-yield investment funds run by global managers Citibank, Nomura, and IFM Investors. It has ensnared millions from unsuspecting victims who sought better returns as interest rates collapsed during the COVID-19 crisis.
Now anti-money laundering regulator AUSTRAC and the Australian Securities and Investments Commission will attempt to mop up the mess that has upstart Australian payments companies and crypto-firms facing collateral damage after being used to siphon funds for crooks armed with hijacked identities.
An investigation by AFR Weekend has discovered a series of fake investment comparison websites that act as a front door to shunt prospective investors into fraudulent products through fintech payment companies.
These sites have exploited the powerful reach of search engines, allowing the scammers to commit identity theft on an industrial scale. Financial crime experts now fear those stolen identities will be used multiple times to establish fake banking and trading accounts around the world.