The Australian Federal Police (AFP) has arrested a sixth individual of Chinese descent in Sydney in connection to an extensive cyber-enabled investment scam, with reported losses exceeding US$100 million globally.
This recent arrest follows five other detentions of Chinese nationals in Sydney as part of the broader Operation Wickham.
The alleged cybercrime scheme is believed to centre around the manipulation of authentic electronic trading platforms typically licensed to foreign exchange brokers.
AFP Detective Superintendent Tim Stainton said Operation Wickham is a clear example of how cybercriminals use social engineering techniques to manipulate victims into thinking their investments are legitimate when these funds are going straight into the pockets of criminals.
Police urge utmost caution
Stainton added: “The number of people falling victim to these types of cyber-enabled scams continues to grow on a daily basis and it is essential that the Australian community exercises the utmost caution if approached online, in person, or on the phone by anyone trying to use any component of their identity to assist the activities of organised crime syndicates.
“I encourage all members of the public to exercise a high degree of caution when approached or engaged by unknown entities on the internet or over online communication platforms in relation to investment opportunities or any other type of opportunity.
“If it seems too good to be true, then it probably is.”
The AFP has arrested and charged a sixth Chinese national living in Sydney as part of an investigation into an organised criminal syndicate involved in a cyber-enabled investment scam that has resulted in more than US$100 million in losses worldwide. https://t.co/15qKAUffkT
— AFP (@AusFedPolice) August 17, 2023
Flagged by US Secret Service
In August 2022, the United States Secret Service (USSS) flagged potential Australian ties to the scam, which predominantly targeted US victims, to the AFP-led Joint Policing Cybercrime Coordination Centre (JPC3).
This prompted the AFP Eastern Command to initiate a simultaneous probe.
Authorities are set to allege that the recently arrested 34-year-old man, residing in Sydney’s Burwood suburb, utilised bank and cryptocurrency accounts to manage cash deposits and international transfers.
Laundering crime proceeds
The accounts in question were reportedly set up by the criminal group using the personal details of Samoan individuals on temporary work visas in Australia.
Initial evidence suggests that these Samoan workers, who were compensated a small fee for account access, may have been unwittingly involved, unaware of the illicit activities.
The arrest followed the identification of the Chinese national in question, after he was captured on CCTV making cash deposits into one of the forementioned accounts.
Subsequently, AFP officers executed a search warrant on 15 August 2023, securing the man’s electronic devices and three large boxes containing tobacco products for further inspection.
Facing a court appearance on September 7 2023, the individual has been charged with several offences, including dealing in the proceeds of a crime, providing a designated service under a false identity, and possessing tobacco for which excise duty remains unpaid.