Infamous NZ tabloid journalist Derryn Hinch once said that con men only prosper because people are greedy. But Hinch was writing in a pre-internet time, about a get-rich-quick scam. Today, many scammers rely on people’s tech naivete and gullibility. How on earth, you might wonder, would anyone be taken in by the classic Nigerian Prince scam?

But scammers are often much more sophisticated than that, and they can snare even the most savvy investors.

With his retirement growing closer, Peter Correy decided to make a boring but safe investment.

He wanted to invest in Treasury bonds and use the proceeds to fund a laid-back beach lifestyle on the NSW Central Coast with his wife Michelle.

After using an online investment comparison website he was contacted by someone claiming to be from the Swiss investment bank UBS.

It’s not clear, here, how exactly this transpired. But it should be noted that such apparent cold-calling should be a red flag. When it comes to financial institutions, etc, you should always be the one contacting them. For instance, your bank will not send you an email with a link to click: they’ll instead tell you go to their website independently.

A rare exception will be if they contact you to check on a suspicious transaction.

Leaving that aside, though, these scammers were thoroughly clever bastards.

The “representative” helped broker a deal, and Mr Correy believed he was buying bonds from an established Australian company, Newtech Industrial Group.

But after depositing $450,000 into Newtech’s bank account in April and May 2022, Mr Correy became suspicious.

It turned out he had not been speaking with UBS, but a scammer impersonating the Swiss bank.

Here’s where it gets scary.

Even though he had been conned, many of the details involved were real.

Newtech Industrial Group was a real company that had been registered in Australia since 2007. The bank account he sent his money to was their real bank account. And the account was with a real bank: the Commonwealth Bank of Australia (CBA).

This is the second example uncovered by the ABC of an Australian company’s bank account allegedly being used to receive stolen funds before the money is laundered offshore.

It raises serious concerns about how Australian companies are regulated, and whether weaknesses in the system are being abused by criminal networks to perpetrate fraud.

As for scammers, they had more front than Myers.

After Peter Correy reported the alleged scam, his bank managed to get two thirds of his funds back. Newtech’s bank account was also shut down.

But that’s when things got really weird […]

Its directors contacted Mr Correy to try and get it re-opened, making elaborate claims about what had happened.

The men said Newtech had received his money and sent it to accounts in Poland and Indonesia, believing that was exactly what Mr Correy wanted.

“They came back to me, completely dumbfounded as to why we would freeze the account,” Mr Correy said.

“They said, ‘But we’ve got all this signed documentation from yourself wanting to invest in Newtech.’”

They even sent him the signed documentation to prove it. They were all forgeries. Correy had never seen them in his life.

“All [the agreements were] using our forged signatures, which they had taken from the passports that we sent through to open the account with UBS,” Mr Correy said.

If you’re thinking they were foolish for sending through their passports, it probably wouldn’t have mattered anyway: it appears the scammers were able to get documents they never should have had.

Oddly, there was also a photo of a physical copy of the couple’s home loan bank statement, a document that Mr Correy says he never sent to his scammers.

One of the “directors”, Florian Rozescu, claimed to want to work with the Correy’s to get their money back with Interpol’s help.

“To have any possibility of return you will need to work with my contacts in Interpol,” Florin Rosezcu wrote to Peter Correy on July 20, 2022.

“Interpol has stated if they are able to recover any of the funds then they must be sent back via the route that they came, so the accusation of the funds being stolen must be lifted.”

Needless to say, this simply isn’t true.

INTERPOL’s website says investigations are always carried out by national and local police forces, while the ABC has confirmed banks would not require the receiving account be open for a scam victim to get their money back.

The scammers went to a great deal of trouble to create what appeared to be a legitimate front.

The Newtech website also describes a long history of achievements across the globe from Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

Despite extensive efforts, the ABC could not independently verify the projects and deals catalogued.

A number of the company’s listed partners appeared not to exist, while others denied having any connection to Newtech.

A representative from Malta Oil and Gas, which is listed as a business partner, told the ABC it “never had such a relationship with Newtech Industrial Group” […]

Newtech is associated with a number of companies in the United Kingdom and New Zealand which have now been dissolved, including Newtech Marketing Network (UK) Limited, Newtech Petrogas International Limited, Newtech-Acorn Petroleum Limited and Newtech Holding Group Limited.

What this scam is uncovering is just how Australia’s relatively lax company registration rules are being used to turn registered companies into “money mules” for scammers.

Financial crime expert Neil Jeans worries criminal networks are abusing the company system.

He wants the corporate regulator ASIC to be far more active in overseeing what some of those companies might be getting up to.

“ASIC is spending a significant amount of resources and effort in identifying and closing down fake websites used for scams … why aren’t they devoting equivalent resources in actually identifying fake companies that are involved in perpetrating these investment scams?” he said […]

The Newtech case is the second incident unearthed by 730 of a legitimately-registered Australian company allegedly being used as a money mule to facilitate financial crimes.

Unbelievably, Newtech Industrial Group is still registered by ASIC because it meets “administrative requirements”.

Mr Jeans said Australia’s anti-money laundering and counter-terrorism financing (AML/CTF) laws have failed to meet global obligations set by the international watchdog, the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), for decades.

Under Australia’s current AML/CTF regime, lawyers and accountants, who are regularly involved in processing company paperwork, are not required to report suspicious criminal activity to the authorities.

“We are one of very few countries in the world that basically have not introduced this,” he said.

ABC Australia

The Albanese government says it wants to address the problem, but progress is dragging its heels. There is a very real risk that the international agency, FATF, will ‘grey-list’ Australia. Something Attorny General Mark Dreyfus is clearly aware of.

And in the meantime, through no fault of their own, more Australians will continue to be ripped off by sophisticated scammers.

Punk rock philosopher. Liberalist contrarian. Grumpy old bastard. I grew up in a generational-Labor-voting family. I kept the faith long after the political left had abandoned it. In the last decade...