Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Social media gangsters preying on Australian retirees, ASIC warns.

By Business editor Peter Ryan

The corporate watchdog is warning that Australian retirees using social media sites are being targeted by organised criminal gangs.

The Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) says the fraudsters are preying on self-funded retirees via Facebook and Twitter, offering dodgy investment schemes that promise to boost their superannuation.

Apart from using social media, the gangs have also set up sophisticated call centres in Asia with offers designed to fleece retirees of their savings.

ASIC regional commissioner Warren Day told AM that gangsters use the latest technology to convince victims they are from legitimate banks or investment houses.

"We're talking about somebody who's a mastermind of the scam, maybe someone from Europe or the US or the UK. They will go down to the Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand, and they will set up what's called a boiler room, effectively a small call centre," Mr Day said.

"Through Facebook or Twitter, they'll attract English speaking people from the local area who have good American accents, good UK accents. They're going to make it sound more authentic when they call you and try and take your money from you."

Mr Day says the gangs have moved beyond the confidence swindlers known to retirees that have traditionally approached potential victims in person door to door.

"These guys do a really good number in putting together very sophisticated, very professional looking websites. They'll also use web technology to create reviews of their services, so that when you do a Google search for the name of their ficticious company, that will turn up higher on the searches than our searches sometimes," Mr Day told AM.

Mr Day said the gangs also use technology to make incoming telephone calls from call centres in Asia appear as if they are local or from the United States.

"The main device that they will still use to get you in is the very simple phone call - probably six o'clock at night, to your house," Mr Day said.

"They'll give you a number that's effectively a 1300 or a 1800 number here in Australia, which will transfer to their call centre somewhere in Asia. You honestly might think that you're ringing the US, you may think that you're ringing you know Queensland or South Australia, but the reality is you know you're ringing that call centre.

"They're very good. They've got very good scripts in terms of keeping you on the hook, keeping you investing, keeping you placated in terms of any scrutiny or any curiosity you may have about their authenticity or not."

Mr Day said the gangs are targeting people over 50 who are often managing their own superannuation investments through increasingly popular self-funded retirement schemes.

"We've got $1.3 trillion tied up in retirement savings in the Australian system. As a result it's a big pot that is being targeted by scammers," Mr Day said.

"We've also got an investing public through self managed super funds who are keen to increase their levels of returns. They are curious, open and interested in pursuing opportunities offshore becaused everything locally is telling them there might be better and cheaper options."

ASIC is urging people approached with suspicious offers to ask for evidence of an Australian financial services licence.

More information on investing scams can be found on ASIC's web site at www.asic.gov.au.

You can follow Peter Ryan on Twitter @Peter_F_Ryan

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