Queenslanders have lost nearly $40 million to investment scams, including cryptocurrency scams this year – the highest loss ever in the state.
Figures from the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) from January 1 to August 28 show Queenslanders lost $38.6 million in investment scams.
This time last year, Queenslanders were defrauded of just $19.8 million.
Nationally, $263 million was lost this year, nearly double the losses in 2021.
One of the state’s top financial crime cops says the new breed of crypto scammers are increasingly using sophisticated strategies to lure their victims, including posing as celebrities and even as people. Queensland police on social media.
The Australian Federal Police (AFP) has also labeled the cryptocurrency an “emerging threat” with a report every eight minutes last year, a 13% increase from the previous year.
Cryptocurrency investment scams are the main driver of the rise and record numbers of Queenslanders are paying the price.
Here are their stories.
“Cared for” and “cheated”
Ella (not her real name), a woman from the Sunshine Coast, has lost all of her savings due to a sophisticated and complex scheme.
Over a period of five weeks, she said she was “groomed” and “scammed” into making three deposits of $34,000 on what she believed to be a legitimate online trading platform.
“My bank…didn’t find any warning signs that made me think, ‘That’s a bit dodgy,'” she said.
After depositing the funds, the money was converted into cryptocurrency accessible through a “wallet” address.
She said the online wallet seemed to correlate with the stock market, giving the illusion that it was legit.
“The thing is, none of this is real,” Ella said.
“The minute he leaves [the web trading platform] at this wallet address… it goes into all these accounts all over the world and it’s impossible to actually track any of these accounts from just this one wallet address.
After Ella’s third and final deposit, she tried to withdraw her money because the alarm bells rang and she had “nothing else in the tank.”
Scammers told him to remortgage his house or turn to credit.
A few months later, Ella received an out of the blue call from a “very sweet” man she had never heard of who claimed to have her money.
“Then came the announcement that in order for me to get my money back, I would have to invest US$5,000,” she said.
“I just hung up but he kept calling me for three days afterward, obviously thinking that somehow I’d come to my senses and lose five grand.”
To date, Ella has never received the money.
“You go through humiliation, embarrassment, you walk into a really dark place because you wonder how could you be so stupid,” she said.
“You don’t want to tell your friends…you wouldn’t even know where to start.”
$100,000 lost to crypto scam
Another 54-year-old man from the Sunshine Coast recently lost $100,000 in a cryptocurrency scam, according to the Queensland Police Service.
He used a legitimate trading platform, but was tricked into investing through a fake company that promised to set up his account in exchange for a better return.
The man was told he could not access the funds for 12 months, which Queensland Police said was a red flag.
“If you manage your own account, you can withdraw at any time,” said Sunshine Coast Senior Sergeant Craig Mansfield.
“His funds ended up in a wallet somewhere in the world that holds about $3 billion right now… who owns it? Who has access to it? No one will ever know.”
Drawn to social media
South West Queensland’s Michael Stefanon invested in cryptocurrency after seeing a ‘friend’ endorse him on social media – but his friend had been hacked.
Initially, Mr Stefanon transferred $100 “to test the waters” and when it appeared he had made a good comeback, he grew suspicious.
“I wanted to take that money out and put it back in my bank account and from there this person was like, ‘Oh, you need to upload more money to get access to your returns,'” he said.
“She kept saying, ‘Trust me, trust me, it’ll work’, so I put in some more.”
Believing messages that appeared to be “professional and genuine”, he transferred money through an online platform he trusted.
Within days, the 35-year-old lost around $700 and is grateful it wasn’t more.
“I felt a bit silly and wish I had never been interested,” Mr. Stefanon said.
“I wouldn’t trust anyone contacting you on social media. I just don’t think crypto is the best way to invest your money.”
Don’t trust get-rich-quick influencers
Acting Superintendent of the Queensland Police Service’s Financial and Cybercrime Group, Michael Newman, said crypto scammers go to great lengths on social media to lure their victims, including stealing the identities of celebrities and even police officers.
“A lot of the ads you see out there where Matt Damon is investing in cryptocurrency, their images are often used without their knowledge,” Acting Superintendent Newman said.
“We actually saw online that there was an image of a Far North Queensland policeman and the ad said, ‘Look what this officer has been doing, look how he’s invested his money and he is a multi-millionaire”.
“We tracked down the officer involved and this officer had at no time given approval for their images to be used nor had they actually invested in cryptocurrency as was actually alleged.”
Acting Superintendent Newman said cybercrime investigators are proactively trying to get these types of ads removed from social media.
“In fact, to investigate and prosecute the person [who posts them] obviously becomes much more difficult, but we can begin the work of preventing disruption by having blatantly false ads taken down,” he said.
Lack of regulation creates the “Wild West”
Dennis Desmond, a former FBI agent and cyber-intelligence expert at the University of the Sunshine Coast, isn’t surprised that more and more Queenslanders are getting caught.
He said that as cost of living pressures increased, people tended to seek quick returns.
“People [who] play the lottery, they will go out and try to find ways to earn extra funds,” Dr Desmond said.
“They think cryptocurrency gives them that opportunity.”
He said a lack of regulation and understanding meant “well organised” criminal groups were involved.
“It’s still the Wild West out there,” he said.
Promptly report suspicious activity
In an effort to combat cybercrime nationwide, the Joint Policing Cybercrime Coordination Center (JPC3) was launched earlier this year as a hub for state and federal law enforcement and stakeholders, including AusTrac and the banking industry.
“We certainly view cybercrime as a threat that is growing in scale and volume and is truly having a significant impact on the public,” Cybercrime Operations Commander Chris Goldsmid said.
“We have the capability, tools and expertise of AFP to track and trace cryptocurrency.
“Cryptocurrency transactions are not anonymous.”
Suspicious activity and scams can be reported to your bank, ReportCyber, and Scamwatch.
Commander Goldsmid urged people to be vigilant, regardless of age or geographic location, and to report suspicious activity promptly.
“People can feel a bit embarrassed if they’ve been the victim of a scam or cybercrime and that embarrassment can cause people to take a while before they think about calling their bank or reporting it to the police. “, did he declare.
“Early reporting is really essential if someone has gained access to your account or managed to steal money from you.”