1000 fake accounts: Crime gangs use students to scam elderly
International students struggling through COVID-19 are being given $500 to open bank accounts that are used by a criminal syndicate to launder money stolen from older Queenslanders scammed over the phone.
Detectives from the Financial and Cyber Crime Group announced today they have arrested and charged two members of a cold call syndicate after raiding a house in Albion.
The students, two men aged 26 and 24, have been charged with recklessly engaging in money laundering and will appear in court on September 28.
Police have alleged the men are part of the syndicate that operates 1000 Queensland bank accounts that have been used to steal $3 million.
Detective Inspector Vince Byrnes said the investigation into the international cold call scam syndicate began last May and has seen 11 people arrested on 25 charges.
He said the group operates by ringing unsuspecting people and gaining remote access to their computers or devices to infiltrate their bank accounts.
The money is transferred into the Australian bank accounts before being moved offshore.
He said most of the 150 victims police have identified are older.
"In fact, the oldest victim involved in this matter is a 95-year-old (woman)," he said.
"(That) can only be described as reprehensible."
Lead investigator Detective Senior Constable Brett Weder said no legitimate company would call and attempt to access your bank account.
"Basically we believe there is a call centre offshore cold calling victims around Australia pretending to be telecommunications companies or financial companies," he said.
"They are saying to the victims, you have a problem with your IP address, or a problem with your internet (or) fraud has been detected with your bank accounts."
Det Sen Const Weder said the scammer offers to fix the problem and asks their victim to download a program onto their computer or device.
The software gives the scammer access and the victim is asked to log onto their bank accounts to make sure they haven't been hacked.
"Before they know it, the call has ended and the victim is unaware their accounts have been hacked until they log on the next day or they get a call from their bank if the bank has technology where they can pick up suspicious behaviour," the detective said.
He said the scammer transfers the cash into "money mule" accounts - usually belonging to or opened by international students.
"These 100 bank accounts were actually opened in Queensland," he said.
"I recently identified one male offender who opened 57 bank accounts with 18 different financial institutions."
Det Sen Const Weder said if the scammers can't infiltrate the person's bank account, they are sometimes able to convince people to withdraw money and deposit it into a money mule's account.
"They are tricked by saying we've identified fraud on your accounts, we can't access your accounts online to assist you, however, to assist us catch the hackers, if you deposit money into these accounts, we will be able to catch the hackers for you," he said.
On average, victims have lost $20,000 to the scams.
"The most I've seen is $600,000," Det Sen Const Weder said.
"I've got one gentleman in Brisbane who lost over $300,000. He made multiple cash deposits in at least six different mules' accounts and probably close to 15 different bank accounts."
He said police had recently identified what they call "mule handlers" - international students who recruit others and pay them to use their bank accounts.
"They actually recruit other students to provide their bank account details with the promise of, if you provide me your bank account details or open an account for me, I will deposit money and you will receive $500 per transaction."
He said the handler would keep $2000, with the remainder transferred out of the country.
"A lot of students are falling for that, the temptation, obviously during COVID, the temptation of receiving $500 for merely opening a bank account (is high)," Det Sen Const Weder said.
"Unfortunately that is assisting this criminal network. Without the money mules, these criminal enterprises can't operate."
Originally published as 1000 fake accounts: Crime gangs use students to scam elderly