The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has sent out 1500 letters to people in New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory in an attempt to stop them sending more money to scammers overseas.
The project, which began in August 2014, uses financial intelligence to identify Australians sending funds to West African nations. The ACCC letters tell people that they may have been targeted by a scam.
Approximately 60 per cent of people who received the warning letters stopped sending money overseas for at least a 6 week period, said ACCC deputy chair Delia Rickard.
“While there is no guarantee that all of the people sent a letter will be a scam victim, there are very real questions about why people should be sending funds to these high risk jurisdictions [in West Africa]. Funds transfers from the people we wrote to total over $9 million,” she said in a statement.
ACCC data indicates that one third of victims were contacted by the scammer through social media channels.
Rickard said people should be suspicious if they are asked to pay for airline tickets, military leave passes, visa applications, medical expenses or government fees.
Other scammers claim that they have a lot of money from an inheritance, gemstone dealings or gold bullion but can’t access the funds.
“They promise to share the money with the victim once they get it out of the bank, through customs or pay associated government fees. A common ruse is to say this is a fee for anti-money laundering and terrorist financing regulations,” said Rickard.
“These excuses and stories are designed to extract the maximum funds and commit the victim both financially and emotionally. Unfortunately, the scam can drag on for years,” Ms Rickard said.
Once the victim pays a scammer the money is gone and the chance of recovering the loss is almost nil, she warned.
The ACCC’s scam disruption project is a joint initiative with the Australasian Consumer Fraud Taskforce (ACFT).
Queensland interior decorator Jill Ambrose was scammed out of $300,000 by a convincing Nigerian based email scam. Speaking at AusCERT 2013, Ambrose said she was contacted via email in September 2005 by a so-called doctor who was supposed to be the Lagos Commissioner of Health.
“He asked if my company would be interested in assisting in renovating some hospitals in Lagos. I was sent pictures of the hospitals and contracts,” she said at the time.
Ambrose was told via email that the renovation work had been done and US$11 million would be sent to her. However, the scammers kept asking her for money before they would release the funds.
The last time the scammers contacted Ambrose was in 2008. By that time, she was nearly destitute.
“At the very early stages they say that you’re not going to have to part with any money. You’re so convinced that you are not being conned that you just do anything,” said Ambrose.