Over 100 Australians are estimated to have lost nearly AUD $3 million to a cryptocurrency investment scam based in Gold Coast, Queensland.
According to a statement released by Queensland Police, the dozens of Australians, most of whom are senior citizens, lost approximately AUD $2.7 million (USD $1.83 million) to the scam. The hardest-hit victim lost AUD $850,000 (USD $575,600) in the fraudulent scheme, almost a third of the entire sum.
The scam has been operating since 2017 and only came to an end three months ago. Three men and two women have already been arrested and are facing money laundering, fraud, and organized crime charges. The five face up to two decades in prison for the fraud charges alone.
To recruit investors, the cryptocurrency scam employed various tactics including using legitimate-looking companies as fronts. One of these was Exmount Holdings Group, which in addition to a website had a call center with 1,300 telephone numbers and sales personnel. Per the Brisbane Times , police are of the view that call center workers were unaware that they had been recruited to aid in criminal activity.
The police warned that other firms which were involved with the crypto scam included offshoots of the Exmount Holdings Group such as Exmount Holdings Ltd. and exmounttrading. Others were AFG Associates Pty Ltd, The Atlas Group, The Quid Pro Quo Foundation, tradex123, amazonqus, and atlasfxgroup.
Per Queensland police, the victims only realized they had been defrauded after trying to withdraw their funds which they were promised had yielded huge profits. According to the statement:
“When those victims attempted to withdraw their capital, they could not. The money had gone and any attempt to contact the businesses involved and their staff came to naught.”
So far the authorities have only recovered AUD $30,000. Some of the victims had withdrawn from their retirement funds to invest in the crypto scam and now face bleak prospects as it is unlikely that all of the money will be recovered.
The single Gold Coast-based cryptocurrency scam defrauded Australians of more than AUD $2.7 million. This far surpasses the AUD $2.1 million that was lost to cryptocurrency scams in the country in 2017. This is according to consumer watchdog the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission. At the current rate, this year could also see the total losses from cryptocurrency scams exceed last year’s.
In 2018, the total amount that was lost by Australians to crypto scams increased by 190 percent to reach AUD $6.1 million.