IDCARE, Scamwatch and AUSTRAC have responded to over a thousand enquiries from Australians looking to apply for compensation from the US Government after falling victim to international fraud syndicates targeting individuals through Western Union money transfers.
In 2017 a joint investigation between the US Federal Trade Commission, the US Department of Justice, and the US Postal Inspection Service resulted in a civil penalty of USD $586 million on Western Union.
On 13 November 2017, the United States Department of Justice (DoJ) announced that victims of the scams could be eligible for compensation by applying to the DoJ with evidence of the fraudulent transactions by May 2018.
Globally, scam victims made over 180,000 remission claims, including 4186 claims from Australians. Australians made the third most claims for compensation to the US DoJ, reflecting our country is a prime target for scammers. More than nine in ten claimants came from the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia.
“Globally this type of action is unprecedented and represents, for the first time for a lot of victims of scams, a sense of justice and opportunity to recover part of what’s been lost to criminals,” says Professor David Lacey, Managing Director IDCARE and Professor of Cyber Security at USC.
A key strategy adopted in Australia that was globally unique was the offering of transactional intelligence from AUSTRAC, Australia’s financial intelligence agency, to assist Australian victims of the scams by using its intelligence holdings to help them to locate relevant transaction records for transfers dating back to 2006. Without this support, many of these victims would have been unable to provide the necessary evidence to the DoJ to lodge a compensation claim.
This action was lauded by the agencies involved across the world as a demonstration of national intelligence efforts directly supporting victims of crime.
AUSTRAC CEO Nicole Rose PSM said she was very pleased that AUSTRAC was able to assist people to support their claims and hoped that they could recover some of the money that had been stolen from them using fraudulent means.
“These scams prey on vulnerable people in our community, often posing as a family member in a desperate situation or even offering job opportunities. People have lost tens of thousands of dollars to these scams and that can be devastating for the innocent victims,” Ms Rose said.
“Protecting Australians from financial crime is a priority for AUSTRAC, and we work closely with our industry partners, including Western Union, on these efforts to combat criminal exploitation of our financial system.”
Telephone scams, phishing emails, SMS scams, and scams through social media continue to dominate in reporting to Scamwatch and the connected support service, IDCARE.
“Australians are losing more money to scams than ever before. Scamwatch has received reports of losses totalling $94 million so far in 2018 and we expect this number will grow well in excess of $100 million by the end of 2018,” ACCC Deputy Chair Delia Rickard said.
“Scams are getting more and more sophisticated which makes them so hard for people to spot. Investment, dating and romance, and remote access scams cause the most financial harm, while phishing scams are the most commonly reported to Scamwatch.”
“Scammers nearly always contact you out of the blue, so it’s vital you have a healthy sense of scepticism when someone you don’t know calls, emails, texts or contacts you via social media. Visit the Scamwatch website to get up-to-date information about how scams work and how you can avoid them,” Ms Rickard said.
People who have applied for compensation through the scheme are urged to be patient. The process is likely to take several more months as the US DoJ and Federal Trade Commission advise that the review of submissions will continue into 2019.
The remission scheme has a dedicated website that contains updates on the general progression of the claims as well as where to report related scam attempts.
If you believe you have experienced a scam you may report the details to Scamwatch.
If you require free and anonymous support in understanding what it means to you, the risks and how to respond, contact IDCARE (1300 432 273).