ORGANISED crime gangs are targeting retirees with increasingly sophisticated scams that may have already cost thousands of elderly Australians more than $100 million.
The fraudsters are homing in on Australia because the economy rode out the global financial crisis comparatively unscathed.
Police and the Australian Crime Commission have told The Age that crime gangs are going to extreme lengths to "backstop" their scams by manning multiple phones with well-informed, convincing associates.
The commission which has set up a joint taskforce called Galilee with state and federal law enforcement bodies estimates that more than 2400 individuals, 800 companies and 51 superannuation funds have lost a total of $93 million to date.
On average, victims have lost about $130,000, with losses ranging from $35,000 to greater than $4 million.
The frauds are a further blow to retirees, many of whom saw the value of their superannuation plummet due to the GFC, and it is believed the cost is far greater than reported.
"Losses and numbers of victims are expected to rise considerably. To date the taskforce has focused on a small number of known fraudulent scams and related organised crime entities and the full extent of the crime is being determined," Australian Crime Commission chief executive John Lawler said.
The scams begin with a phone call, inviting the victim to invest in a scheme offering massive returns. The victim may then be directed to a website, which looks convincingly "official".
However, according to Australian Federal Police Assistant Commissioner Neil Gaughan, when the victim telephones numbers supplied by the criminals the sophistication of the schemes becomes apparent.
"When people have been de-briefed about why they fell for the scam, and you say: 'When this happened, why didn't you do this?' they say: 'We did, but they had a story that actually made it sound legitimate.'
"Then we'll say: 'Well, why didn't you do this after that?' and they say: 'We did, but they also had a covering story for that'," Mr Gaughan told The Age.
Although no charges have been laid, Queensland police have asked anyone who worked for the companies West Trade and Atlas Lead Generation, and any investors, to contact them.