How you can join the fight against serious financial crime

Did you ever read Scrooge McDuck comic books when you were younger? It always seemed like the police had a pretty easy job trying to catch the Beagle Boys who were constantly trying to rob Scrooge, given they were so easily identifiable.

Not so in the real world, where criminals are at least smart enough not to dress like they are out there trying to steal everyone’s money.

To help the community spot financial crimes in action, Australia’s Serious Financial Crimes Taskforce (SFCT) has released an identikit that outlines 10 criminal ‘personas’ involved in financial crime, how to spot them and what to do if you notice suspicious behaviour.

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The personas range from hardcore criminals connected to international crime syndicates, through to professional enablers who use their skills and networks to facilitate financial crime, as well as cyber criminals, launderers, fixers, tax frauds and rorters.

SFCT chief Will Day says that behind every serious financial crime are people who deceive, cheat and steal from everyday Australians.

“Direct victims of serious financial crime include people who have had their life savings targeted or identities stolen, through to people and businesses that are not paid for services provided to a company they thought was legitimate,” Mr Day says.

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“Meanwhile every one of us is a victim too because of the millions of dollars that doesn’t go into our tax system for essential services such as education and health.

“We also know that money obtained through tax evasion, tax fraud and crimes like money laundering may be used to fund other crimes such as drug trafficking that cause significant harm to people and our communities.”

The Serious Financial Crime Identikit includes a checklist of warnings signs and a call for the public to be on the lookout for things that seem off.

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Criminal ‘personas’ outlined in the Serious Financial Crime Identikit include:

  • The Hardcore Criminal: the key instigator, overseer and beneficiary of the most serious financial crimes. Often, these individuals are members of or linked to organised (international) crime syndicates or groups.
  • The Lieutenant: the person on the ground who works for hardcore criminals to source and manage the different resources and enablers they need. They will typically not be aware of the full extent of the crimes that ‘their employer’ is involved in. They will only know about their piece of the puzzle.
  • The Enabler: enablers are professionals who use their skills, structures and networks to help facilitate serious financial crime.
  • The Tax Fraud: an opportunist who takes advantage of situations as they arise, works with professional ‘enablers’ to conduct and conceal their crimes and tries to bluff their way around the system.
  • The Cyber Criminal: these criminals use technology to gain access to information and sensitive data that can be used to facilitate a range of crimes, including tax crime and identity theft.
  • The Fixer: a person who profits by facilitating offshore tax evasion. More specifically, they help individuals, dodgy companies and criminal syndicates conceal the source of money and how much money they have.
  • The Phoenix Operator: someone who deliberately winds up or abandons a company (typically within a year) leaving its debts behind and no-one to chase. They may then start up another company immediately to take over where the ‘failed’ company left off, or else they often flee the country.
  • The Straw Director: the director of a company/companies destined to be liquidated within a short period of time, or a shell company that has been set up with the intention of avoiding tax and other liabilities. However, in some cases, straw directors are not complicit in serious financial crimes, instead they are best described as ‘victims’.
  • The Rorter: an individual who lies or withholds information to fraudulently access a range of government subsidies (including COVID-19 stimulus measures).
  • The Launderer: sets up companies and money flow structures that make illegally gained proceeds (dirty money) appear legal (clean).

“Members of the public can help us by using the Serious Financial Crime Identikit to understand the warning signs to look out for and by calling the ATO tip-off line on 1800 060 062 if they see something suspicious,” Mr Day says. “Tip-offs can remain anonymous.

“Warning signs are things you might recognise from crime shows or movies like a fancy lifestyle beyond someone’s day job, large purchases made with cash, keeping two sets of books or using fake names.

“Lying or being suspicious about income and where it came from are warning signs too.”

According to the SFCT, the things to look out for and the action to take when it comes to cybercrime and identity theft are:

  • unsolicited or suspicious requests for your personal information
  • unusual emails such as password changes or verification links (delete suspicious emails and confirm your details through your own account)
  • suspicious links or downloadable files in emails, text messages or social media posts from sources that don’t appear to be genuine (do not click or download)
  • unusual activity in your accounts (report it straight away).

Would you know how to spot a financial criminal? Would you report suspicious behaviour if you saw it? Why not share your thoughts in the comments section below?

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Written by Ben



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