The ‘super scammers’ thieving personal financial information from Sydney letterboxes have stripped millions from members’ balances, and the amount is rising, according to the NSW police unit investigating the crime.“We’re talking seven figures, and it’s increasing,” Andrew Gill, detective senior constable with Strike Force Gamut of the Harbourside Police, the unit investigating the criminal syndicate accused of the crimes, said.
Since the scam was first reported in national media on May 17, Harbourside Police had received a flood of calls from people concerned that their super accounts had been raided by the group, Gill said. As Investment & Technology went to press, six men and two women had been arrested and charged by the strike force on multiple charges of fraud. “Now we’ve got eight people for 545 charges,” Gill said. Strike Force Gamut has been investigating the group since August 2008.
It alleges the group had stolen cheques, banking statements and other financial data from residential letterboxes and used the information to create fake identification documents, such as drivers’ licences and Medicare cards, to open bogus bank accounts through which stolen money was laundered and funnelled offshore. But the group had “morphed,” Gill said, and police were investigating whether they had fleeced Sydney siders of their superannuation savings.
Police allege the group took superannuation member statements from letterboxes and used the accumulated financial data to set up fraudulent self managed super funds (SMSFs) and attached bank accounts, into which they transferred members’ existing balances from funds, before moving the money offshore.
Neil Jensen, chief executive officer of AUSTRAC, the government body responsible for protecting Australia’s financial system from money laundering and terrorism financing, refused to comment specifically on details of the investigation but said it would contact banks to draw their attention to the criminal activity and reiterate their obligations under anti-money laundering and counter-terrorism fighting (AML/CTF) legislation.
The Investment and Financial Services Association (IFSA) is working with the NSW Police in its investigation of the group, since the crimes are in the remit of its IT fraud and security group, according to IFSA deputy John O’Shaughnessy. Law enforcement agencies at the state and federal level often participate in the group’s meetings. SMSFs are established and administered through the Australian Tax Office (ATO).
To transfer a whole superannuation balance from a fund into an SMSF, trustees of the self-managed vehicles must submit a portability form to the ATO. To prove their identity, SMSF trustees must present either adriver’s licence or passport. For general super funds, there was not a standard identification verification test that members must passin order to withdraw their balances, O’Shaughnessy said.“You need to retain the balance between maintaining good service and what the members want.