• Awareness the key to protecting Australia's retirement savings

    Task Force Galilee was launched by the Australian Crime Commission (ACC) in 2011 to address the wave of sophisticated investment fraud targeting Australians.

    The Task Force believes that organised crime operations based overseas are being increasingly drawn to Australia's large pool of retirement savings, which presently stands at more than $1.3 trillion.

    The impact that serious and organised investment fraud has on many Australians is devastating; draining the life savings of hardworking Australians in the blink of an eye - destroying both future financial security and lives in the process.

    As of June 2012, authorities have identified that more than 2,600 Australians (mainly baby boomers) have fallen victim to the fraud and at least $113 million in savings has been lost.

    Prevention is better than a cure, so community education and awareness is paramount. By making the community aware of the often high pressure tactics used by promoters, the ACC, in partnership with other government agencies, is disrupting the methodology of investment fraud promoters and protecting the savings and retirement income of Australians.

    Among other activities, the ACC is working in partnership with Australia Post to deliver letters to every Australian household, warning them of the growing threat of serious and organised investment fraud, and providing information on how to avoid such schemes.

    Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) Chairman, Greg Medcraft, urges investors to be immediately wary if they are contacted by someone offering an investment opportunity overseas.

    'Many of these investment frauds are so professional and believable that it is hard to tell them apart from genuine investment opportunities,' said ASIC Chairman Greg Medcraft.

    'They often use the internet to appear legitimate. They put up websites and issue online media releases and some even give victims login details to fake accounts to view fake investment balances.

    'The reality is that these frauds are getting more sophisticated and people need to be wary.'

    On 9 July, the Minister for Home Affairs and Minister of Justice, Jason Clare released an ACC and Australian Institute of Criminology report outlining the threat of serious and organised investment fraud in Australia. This report is available on the ACC website.

    Retiree savings lost to fraud

    This is a fictional amalgam of actual victims in cases identified by Australian law enforcement.

    Steve is a retired 65-year-old who lives alone.

    Not long after his wife's death, he received an unexpected call offering an investment opportunity.

    The opportunity was fraudulent but the callers were very professional in their approach, with excellent knowledge of investment matters. They answered all of Steve's questions and their initial contact was followed up with calls from 'senior advisors'.

    As Steve's superannuation funds weren't doing so well, he decided to give this new investment opportunity a try. He did not see the need to discuss the investment opportunities with anyone else.

    Over the next 12 months, Steve made a number of transfers to the fraudsters, initially starting with $10,000. He was referred to a very professional looking website and set up an account, which he could login to and see his money increasing in value as the market 'went up'. In total, Steve sent $200,000.

    He only realised that the investments were fraudulent when the website went down and he could no longer access his account or contact the group by phone.

    He then did some research and discovered that the company was fake but he was too embarrassed to tell anyone or report it to police. He was contacted by police after they discovered his name on bank transfers made to known fraudsters.

    Since learning of the fraud, Steve has been contacted again by criminals, with offers to help him get his money back from the original investment. This time Steve contacted police, who explained this was a 'secondary fraud' and warned him to expect more calls like this as his name was passed on to other criminals.

    Unfortunately, there is little authorities can do to recover Steve's $200,000.

    About investment fraud

    Organised crime groups are targeting the retirement savings of older Australians with sophisticated fraud operations.

    Typically based overseas, the fraudsters initiate contact over the phone and use persuasive techniques to build trust with victims, before enticing them to transfer funds into bogus investments.

    Experienced and inexperienced investors alike are at risk. At June 2012, more than 2,600 Australians have fallen victim to the fraud. The average individual loss is around $42,348, but losses range from $35,000 to $4 million.

    Total losses are believed to be higher than the reported $113 million to date, because many victims are unwilling or too embarrassed to report their loss.

    Find out how to protect yourself at www.moneysmart.gov.au or call 1300 300 630.

      Last modified: 22 Nov 2012QC 28311