Australian Federal Police (AFP) investigators are reminding Australians to be wary of social engineering-driven investment scams, after arresting a sixth Chinese national who paid Samoan nationals to use their bank accounts for what turned out to be money laundering.

The man, from the Sydney suburb of Burwood, was caught on CCTV depositing large sums of cash into the accounts of the Samoans he had paid to use their bank accounts, then withdrawing other funds from two compromised accounts.

He had been found to be using bank and cryptocurrency accounts to “facilitate cash deposits and transfers offshore,” the AFP reported.

Charges include dealing in proceeds of indictable crime, money or property worth $100,000 or more; receiving a designated service using a false name or customer anonymity; and reasonable suspicion of being in possession of tobacco on which excise duty has not been paid – a charge relating to the discovery of three large boxes of tobacco products upon execution of a search warrant.

The arrest marks the latest suspect to be caught by the joint AFP Cybercrime Operations-NSW Police driven Operation Wickham – the local crackdown on a global investment scam that has taken more than $150 million ($US100 million) from victims.

Last December, Operation Wickham saw the arrest of four Chinese nationals and the seizure of $22.5 million they had scammed from victims by using social engineering techniques including dating sites, employment sites, and messaging platforms.

Victims were manipulated into putting cryptocurrency into purported investment opportunities, which were backed with legitimate-appearing financial reports produced through the unlawful manipulation of legitimate electronic trading platforms.

The four were allegedly tasked by a global crime syndicate with establishing Australian businesses and bank accounts to facilitate the laundering of proceeds from the scam.

“The number of people falling victim to these types of cyber-enabled scams continues to grow on a daily basis,” detective superintendent Tim Stainton said as the latest arrest was announced, urging Australians to “exercise 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.”

The latest arrest comes after Operation Wickham led to the 9 June arrest of a fifth Chinese national, who arrived in NSW on an overseas flight and had, an AFP spokesperson told Information Age, been identified as being involved in money laundering.

That man was charged with “recklessly engaging in conduct in relation to property valued at $10 million or more”, where the conduct “concealed or disguised” the source, disposition, rights, and/or identity of the person(s) who controlled the property.

He will appear in Downing Centre Local Court on 5 September and faces up to 15 years’ imprisonment.

Scams continue to hit the mark

Investment scams have proven to be far and away the most successful strategy for ever more creative criminals targeting Australians this year, with over $197 million – equal to 60 per cent of all scam losses – lost to such scams in the first seven months of this year alone.

That’s nearly twice as much as the rest of the top ten scams put together – and it continues to spearhead what has been flagged as a wave of cybercrime causing “enormous” and underreported costs for Australians.

Flashpoint, for one, ranked Australia as the eighth most-attacked country by ransomware criminals during July, while Group-IB’s latest Digital Risk Trends Report warned that APAC targets were rapidly growing as the most favoured by cyber criminals – with adversaries moving from creating fake accounts, to hijacking verified accounts for their own purposes.

The future will see more of the same, the report predicts, noting that cryptocurrency “will have an even more significant role in the cybercriminal world” and that “threat actors will look to new markets, where users are less informed about scam and phishing techniques.”

In this latest incident, the AFP said, the Samoans in question were temporary working visa holders who, evidence suggested, were unaware of the man’s intended use of their accounts.

Nonetheless, the persistence of such scams – even in terms of the continued activities of the group Project Wickham has targeted – highlights the need for continued vigilance.

“I encourage all members of the public to exercise a high degree of caution,” Stainton said, “when approached or engaged by unknown entities… in relation to investment opportunities or any other type of opportunity.”

“If it seems too good to be true, then it probably is.”