Australians losing superannuation savings to sophisticated new scam
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A sophisticated new scam has been uncovered that targets the retirement nest eggs of Australians.
The ABC's 7.30 program can reveal the scam used the names Invest Fast or Invest Quick and pretended to be a financial advice firm based in Melbourne.
Scammers would cold-call victims and set up self-managed super funds (SMSF) for them so they could supposedly achieve high investment returns.
At least 45 SMSFs were created for potential victims.
The scammers would then steal their victims' superannuation, either by getting them to agree to rollover their funds or forging the rollover documentation.
It has exposed the vulnerability of a superannuation fund and a major bank to scam activity, increasing calls for more to be done to protect and reimburse scam victims.
Townsville small business owner and father of three Andrew Holmes has lost more than $220,000.
"It's just completely consuming, it just doesn't leave my brain," Mr Holmes said.
"I worked so hard my entire life and I put money away, extra money away … and it's just gone."
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Two weeks ago, 7.30 reported allegations that a call centre in the Philippines is linked to multi-million dollar scams that have targeted Australians for their superannuation.
A police raid was conducted in search of evidence related to the scams and the names of some Australian victims were found in computer databases.
No charges have been laid as authorities continue to investigate.
Private cybercrime investigator Ken Gamble believes there is evidence to link the Invest Quick scam to the same Metro Manila call centre.
"Invest Quick is another fraudulent name, which has been invented by a very clever syndicate of fraudsters who are doing multiple different scams," he said.
7.30 put questions about the Invest Quick scam to the corporate regulator, ASIC
Deputy chair Sarah Court said in a statement: "These questions involve numerous matters and persons of interest to ASIC. ASIC is significantly constrained in its capacity to respond to questions about matters which are the subject of criminal investigations.
"These matters are a powerful reminder that Australians need to treat contact by any third parties in relation to their investment and superannuation choices with the maximum caution."
On the Invest Quick website, which is no longer online, it displayed details of two legitimate Australian businesses with similar names.
Both have told 7.30 that their details were copied or cloned without their knowledge.
Mr Gamble said it was a common deceptive tactic.
"What we found is that these fraudsters very cleverly cloned legitimate credentials from legitimate companies that are regulated in Australia," Mr Gamble said.
"That satisfies most victims in their due diligence inquiries, because they're actually verifying that it's real, but the problem is it doesn't really belong to the entity that is contacting them."
It is understood the Invest Quick scam ran from at least late 2020 until April last year.
Mr Gamble said the tactics were very similar to another scam he's investigated involving a company called Australian Securities Administration Limited (ASAL) Group.
A call centre in the Philippines is being investigated over multi-million-dollar superannuation scams that have seen a number of Australians lose their retirement savings.
This scam involved cloning or misusing real details without permission from a company controlled by financial giant AMP, cold-calling victims and encouraging them to establish self-managed super funds.
Mr Gamble represents a man who was first contacted by Invest Quick and later had hundreds of thousands of dollars stolen in the ASAL Group scam.
"This scam Invest Quick is directly connected to ASAL," Mr Gamble said.
"It's the identical methodology used by the scammers and we also have correspondence with one of our ASAL victims, which is identical to the Invest Quick correspondence and … Invest Quick actually contacted one of our ASAL clients."
It was late 2020 when Mr Holmes received a call from an English man claiming to be with Invest Quick.
The pitch was about establishing a self-managed super fund and getting high investment returns.
"Very well spoken, very professional, he answered every question," Mr Holmes said.
"I had a lot of initial resistance and didn't just jump in — I was very cautious."
Mr Holmes checked the information he was sent, including verifying the company details and it was months before he decided to go ahead.
But what he didn't know at the time was the scammers were sending almost identical emails.
7.30 has compared an email sent to him with one sent to Ken Gamble's client.
They are almost word for word and pushed the reader to visit the Invest Quick website and provided detailed information about an investment fund run by Colonial First State.
Seeing them side by side shocked Mr Holmes.
"It's confronting, someone fell for it like, exactly the same way I did," Mr Holmes said.
Colonial First State said in a statement it only became aware of the alleged scam after being contacted by 7.30.
It said while the information supplied to Mr Holmes appeared to be genuine, CFS had no relationship with the people who had contacted him.
"InvestFast, InvestQuick … are not authorised agents of Colonial First State and we have no record of any association."
Mr Holmes only realised something was seriously wrong when he took a call from the corporate regulator ASIC telling him they suspected he'd been scammed.
He called his fund Energy Super, which confirmed his worst fear — his money was gone.
Without his retirement savings, Mr Holmes is worried about his family's future.
"It was just starting to really stack up," he said.
"I'm not going to have anything to leave the kids because I've got to start literally from the ground up."
Mr Holmes began asking questions about how his money was rolled out without his knowledge.
He claims the scammers tricked Energy Super by submitting forged forms, which had his old address and a fake bank statement that had his details on it.
His life savings were paid into a Westpac account that wasn't his.
"In my case, I didn't sign one thing … with my super fund to withdraw any money into any account," he said.
"They didn't verify my identity with me, they didn't do a bank account check with me.
"They didn't even think to go 'well, Mr Holmes lives in Townsville and there's a Victorian JP stamp; shouldn't we perhaps contact Andrew about that just in case?'"
Westpac later shut down the fraudulent account and reported it to authorities.
In a statement, the bank said it couldn't comment on individual cases.
Mr Holmes also believes the fund should have been on a heightened alert for fraud related to self-managed super funds after a warning from the regulator.
"(The Australian Prudential Regulation Authority) APRA have put all super funds on notice about the increased risk to early release and identity crimes involved with super funds, and particularly in rollouts to SMSFs," he said.
"It was the fund's responsibility to have heightened security measures,"
Energy Super now trades as Brighter Super, which declined to be interviewed.
It's refusing to reimburse Mr Holmes.
In a statement, it said it had met APRA standards and legal requirements.
"The scam succeeded despite Energy Super meeting all Australian Prudential Regulation Authority (APRA) standards and legislative requirements when assessing and processing the documentation."
Brighter Super said Mr Holmes had voluntarily given the scammer his identity documents and it had contacted him before the withdrawal.
The Australian financial complaints authority, known as AFCA, has sided with the super trustee finding it acted in accordance with industry guidelines and there was nothing in the rollover to indicate it was fraudulent.
Gerard Brody, chief executive of the Consumer Action Law Centre, said he believes Mr Holmes's case raises important questions about whether there should be increased obligations on super funds.
"I think that super funds should have obligations to ensure that any rollover is done in accordance with the customer's instructions and there isn't fraudulent activity, we should expect better of super funds," Mr Brody said.
Mr Brody is leading a campaign for financial institutions to take more responsibility for scams that don't involve customer negligence.
"We're calling for new rules to place obligations on banks and firms to detect scam transactions, prevent them and importantly, reimburse blameless victims.
"We think that shifting that liability would create a real powerful incentive on banks and financial firms to invest in systems and technologies to prevent scams."
Mr Holmes is determined to keep pursuing his super fund.
He believes dramatic improvements are needed in the financial system to protect others.
"I've never felt more alone in a huge, huge battle," Mr Holmes said.
"I would hate to think that anyone else gets scammed the way that I did. If somebody else doesn't have to get through that, because there's better security measures in place."
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Australians losing superannuation savings to sophisticated new scam