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Cybercrime Investigations with Ken Gamble

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Criminals feel safe to hide behind the internet. They hire people and train them to be effective salespeople with the goal of taking your money. Let’s look at a few ways to do our due diligence to be sure that who you are working with online are who they say they are. 

Today’s guest is Ken Gamble. Ken is a professional investigator, corporate security specialist, and cybercrime expert with 33 years of experience working for individuals and multinational corporations. He is the co-founder and executive chairman of IFW Global that conducts fraud investigations, asset tracking, fraud recovery, disruption and  prevention of global cybercrime, monitoring enforcement actions to protect and recover assets for worldwide clients. He is the current Australian chairman of the International Association of Cybercrime Prevention, a non-profit association founded in Paris in 2006. Ken is an accomplished surveillance specialist and former surveillance advisor contractor to a commonwealth government agency in Australia and a consultant to numerous law enforcement agencies in the US, Asia, and Europe as well as several foreign governments.

Show Notes:

  • [1:23] – Ken shares his background and international experience.
  • [2:41] – In his career, Ken has worked in all sectors of investigation.
  • [3:50] – What inspired Ken to get into this field? The internet.
  • [6:00] – International crimes are very complicated to pursue which has made crime on the internet so impactful.
  • [8:01] – Although challenging, it is possible to track people down by following a digital footprint and mistakes. 
  • [9:39] – The type of work Ken does is very high-end.
  • [10:47] – Ken has worked for foreign governments and government officials for many high-end cases.
  • [11:37] – Following the money doesn’t lead to the scammer. Ken describes other methods to track the location of criminals.
  • [13:05] – A lot of success comes from informants and whistle-blowers.
  • [13:55] – Sometimes people work in a call center not knowing that they are working for a scam organization.
  • [15:02] – This is a male-dominated industry, specifically young men.
  • [17:06] – Although these criminals are ruthless, they are well spoken, polished speakers and are generally very charming.
  • [18:03] – Craigslist is often used to attract job applicants.
  • [19:37] – Criminal organizations are extremely manipulative to those who come to realize that the operations are wrong.
  • [22:38] – A big red flag is talking to someone and not ever seeing them either in person or on a video chat.
  • [24:25] – Do your due diligence and research who you’re talking to. 
  • [26:54] – Criminal organizations train employees through very well rehearsed scripts.
  • [29:23] – The number one red flag is that criminal organizations are not regulated firms.
  • [30:52] – Cryptocurrency is a big trend in scams currently.
  • [33:18] – There are a lot of new challenges with cryptocurrency fraud.
  • [35:22] – Cybercrime organizations are extremely sophisticated.
  • [36:55] – Many organizations have mastered moving funds to other countries that won’t cooperate with law enforcement.
  • [38:29] – Being able to reveal who the criminals are leads to a better chance at asset recovery.
  • [40:02] – If Ken can identify a criminal and freeze accounts, it worries them. Paying back a client is how they can get out of their predicament.
  • [41:18] – Some countries are more favorable to the victim and others are not.
  • [42:37] – Ken now takes the media along to busts to expose criminals and educate the public.
  • [44:09] – Financial crime is devastating to the victim.
  • [46:50] – Criminals sometimes feel extreme guilt but they justify their actions.
  • [51:15] – If you want to invest in something, ask for second opinions and do your due diligence and research.

Thanks for joining us on Easy Prey. Be sure to subscribe to our podcast on iTunes and leave a nice review. 

Transcript:

Can you give me and the audience a little background about who you are and what you do?

I’m a veteran private investigator with 33 years of experience, mostly in Australia, but I have worked all over the world. I lived in several different countries, including the United States. I started in 1988 as a surveillance operative working for a government insurance office here doing insurance fraud. 

I did surveillance work for probably 15 solid years for all sorts of organizations then I got into cybercrime. I started to take an interest in cybercrime. In fact, not long after the internet was born, I started to get into cyber cases. Over the years, I developed an expertise in the area of cybercrime and started pursuing large-scale cybercrime cases, whether it’s hackers tracking their real locations or finding out who’s behind a website—that type of thing. 

Over the years, I built up several companies and now running my own independent international firm called IFW Global. We, these days, focus very much on large-scale fraud. I’ve done lots of cases over the years. I’ve gone into all the different realms of private investigation. 

I rescued kidnapped children from foreign countries. I’ve worked in over 45 countries around the world, so a lot of my work in the past 20 years has been in foreign countries, whether it’s Europe, Eastern Europe, Africa, North Africa, and all over South East Asia, I’ve worked extensively. More than 20 operations in China alone. 

That was my area of expertise—was working in foreign countries doing operational stuff. I used to do a lot of corporate risk work for big multinationals and protective security, bodyguarding, all of that type of work. In the past five years, I found my real space in the area of serious financial crime and cross-border, large-scale financial crime, which is a massive criminal industry that’s causing havoc around the world at the moment.

Was there a specific event that made you want to get more involved in cybercrime and international financial crimes? 

I think that I saw from a very early stage that there was this thing called the internet. Back in ’95, we started working for Microsoft investigating Windows 95 counterfeits. We started realizing that the computer and the internet were going to attract so much crime. 

I started taking a fascination with how people can hide behind websites and how you can set up a false facade online and be anybody. I, from a very early stage, was looking beyond how people do that. One of my first huge cases was an AOL case. It was for AOL tracking down one of the world’s largest spammers who’s hiding in the Philippines. We ended up having him arrested. 

Was that Wallace Stanford?

No, it was Matthew Bagley and Chris Smith had 30 years in prison. These guys were running the biggest spamming of counterfeit drugs actually, which is quite extraordinary because flash forward to 2015 and I’m raiding a counterfeit drug factory for Pfizer, which was a cover story on The Wall Street Journal

Oh, wow.

I saw this evolving crime starting to happen, and I saw it at a very early stage. This is a big business. The lack of enforcement, no sort of enforcement for the internet at all. There was zero enforcement. This is the wild west. You can do anything you want on the internet. 

As the internet progressed and became more and more sophisticated, so did the crimes. But still, there’s no watchdog. There’s no global organization that takes care of fraud on the internet, which led me to become one of the cofounders of Internet Fraud Watchdog in Europe in 2007. That’s how we started. I had this vision of privatizing law enforcement on the internet. That was my vision when I was in the late 2000s. 

That’s one of the challenges that I think I have run across with trying to help people is if the crime happened in the United States, both the criminal and the victim are both in the United States. If you’re lucky there are legal systems that can help you, but as soon as it goes international it’s, “Well, now you’ve got to have domestic lawyers, international lawyers, international law enforcement has to get involved, and the complexities of pursuing stuff just go up exponentially.” 

Absolutely. That’s why the internet has been so successful as a platform for criminals: because they’re a jurisdictional nightmare. Some of these groups that we’re investigating are so sophisticated. These are high-tech, state-of-the-art criminal organizations that are impossible to track by electronic means. 

Unless you can infiltrate their operations physically, which is going back to the old-style detective work, actually infiltrating them and getting inside their operations by recruiting people into their organization and so forth. Unless you can do that, you’re not going to actually take their operations down. It’s incredible. 

Yeah, I can imagine that they’re very decentralized, I assume, and they have people working for those organizations all over the world. 

Yes, that’s correct. The technology that allows people to remain anonymous has become a big business to allow people, and of course, criminals to take advantage of these types of applications, encryption, and all that. They’re using this to anonymously hide themselves. That becomes really difficult when it comes to investigating cybercrimes, but it’s not impossible.

There are ways and means still to catch people, because any cybercriminal has to interact with the victim in some way. They have to leave some sort of footprint and they’re not all super sleuths. They’re not all state of the art. Some of these groups still make mistakes. Surprisingly, some of these big organizations make mistakes because they have a lot of people working for them. Sometimes even the workers may forget to put on their VPN one day or something. 

We find that we still get a lot of success by tracking these people down, but it’s cross-border, it’s cross-jurisdiction. The average scam group that we look at, particularly in the Southeast Asia region, like what we call boiler rooms, the Wolf of Wall Street-type of offices that sell fake investments. The average scam uses 25 different jurisdictions. 

Oh my goodness.

That is bank accounts in one, companies in another, IP in another, and so on and so on. The registry, the domains, all the intricate pieces of the crime are split out in 25 different jurisdictions around the world. That makes it pretty complicated for any detective or any investigator at any part of the world to take on that case single-handedly. 

Are mostly investigations you do, do you have individual clients, or is it usually corporate clients who’ve lost money through funds that have been intercepted and sent to a different account as opposed to their appropriate vendor?

No, we have both, but we certainly have a lot of individuals. Normally, individuals have lost large amounts of money, hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars because people that haven’t lost a lot of money can’t afford our services anyway. We are more of a high-end firm where we require significant retainers to go after these people. This is high-risk work.

These criminals try to kill us if they could. These are dangerous criminals, some of the groups that we go after. There is a degree of funding that we need to catch these people. We tend to only go after the larger cases where there’s a greater chance of success. 

A lot of individuals come to us. We’ve had groups as big as 165 people come to us as part of a big class action. We often have funders come to us that might be funding a major fraud case. It could be a $100 million Ponzi scheme or something like that and they will come and retain us as part of an investigation into a large-scale fraud of some sort. We also have corporations come to us, even banks. We had a bank just yesterday contact us in relation to a fraud against the bank—quite an unusual, bizarre type of fraud that was all cyber. 

We are getting contacted by many different organizations. Over the years, I’ve worked for foreign governments. I’ve worked directly for some very high-level government officials in countries where we’ve been asked to come in and look at money laundering and cases where their government has no ability to investigate cross-border cases. 

If you don’t want to disclose behind the curtain, I don’t want to disclose how we do this stuff. Is a lot of success you’ve had in recovery by following the money or by following the interactions between the victim and the criminal?

No, it’s actually neither because following the money only leads to bankers, and the way this whole fraud industry is set up is that the money doesn’t lead directly back to the criminals, it leads to money launderers. Those launderers will actually cash out the money and they will transport it sometimes physically to the mastermind.

The old days of following the money are gone. We have to use other methods—quite sophisticated methods in some case—to track the whereabouts of some of these organizations, and also there are a lot of electronic and cyber investigations that go on. A lot of tracking using sophisticated tracking software and so forth. Also engaging with the criminals. 

A lot of times, the victim can reengage with the fraudster and pretend that they want to send more money, then we can track some of those conversations or emails and ascertain the jurisdiction. Because we’ve been doing it a long time, we also have a lot of informants. It’s not unusual for us to get information about a certain group that’s maybe operating in a certain country in a certain office building even. 

Most of our major successes—some of the ones that have been on 60 Minutes and won awards. One of them won an award. Those cases have been uncovered through the use of whistleblowers and informants. Actual people inside that have blown the whistle. A majority of our successes have been a result of whistleblowers and that continues to happen to this day. 

People contact us, they might have been working for an organization and they may be now disgruntled and they want to blow the whistle on a criminal group. It could take us six months to put the operation together and then we’re knocking down their door with a SWAT team. 

When you have an insider contact you, that communication eventually gets to you, is it often that they’re disgruntled, or do you find that they’re people who went to work for the criminal organization not realizing it was a criminal? They’re working in a call center thinking they’re doing real tech support and they’re really planting malware on machines?

Yes, that actually happens quite a lot. They discover once they’re in these call centers that they’re actually selling investments that don’t exist. If they’re selling investments, particularly stocks and shares is the most profitable because once they have a customer on the hook, he will throw hundreds of thousands of dollars at buying shares. It’s a big earner for the criminals. 

Some of these people get sucked into it. What happens is they go into a Southeast Asian country, they get their passport taken by the boss. The boss will hold the passport as security to make sure that the guy does his job and so forth. It’s kind of a form of human trafficking because these people get caught in these operations and sometimes they’re stuck for years. They develop alcohol addictions, drug addictions, and they are forced to work in this environment and they don’t like it. 

Eventually, some of these men—they’re always men. This is a male-dominated industry. I don’t think we’ve ever seen a female working in one of these boiler room operations in Southeast Asia, but it’s mostly young men that have been lured into this scene. Of course, it’s the lures of riches and huge amounts of cash like they’ve never seen, which keeps them on the hook. 

But sometimes their conscience will get the better of them and they will come forward and give information anonymously. Sometimes that leads to us identifying who they really are because we develop relationships. Some of these whistleblowers, we even put them back inside the operation again to gather more information, this time for good instead of evil.

That’s great. I always wonder, “Does anyone out there have a conscience?” It’s neat to hear that. At some point, some people in these organizations are going, “This is just so wrong; I’ve got to say something.” 

Absolutely. A lot of the workers at the lower level are really struggling with their conscience when they’re doing this type of work. Some of them don’t care. There are a lot of people void of emotion, particularly the bosses that run these operations. This is a business. They don’t get emotionally involved at all. These are true gangsters who are absolutely ruthless when it comes to what they will do to get money out of somebody, and they don’t care. 

They don’t care whether they have to harm someone in order to get someone to back off. I’ve had several hits put on me over the years, some of them quite high-profile where they just see me as such a threat to their business because I’ve been able to get into their organizations. 

These people all have a very common threat, these fraudsters, and they’re just void of emotion. They’re horrible people and they’ve had horrible upbringings. As I said, drug and alcohol addictions. They are just ruthless. But on the phone, they sound really good. They have great voices. It could be a really posh British accent. They sound like they just came out working for a London stock exchange or something. These are well-spoken polished speakers, but in reality, they’re gangsters. 

For the entry-level people that are recruited, are there warning signs that people that are—I don’t want to say looking for the job working for the criminal organization. But if they’re looking for jobs, it’s like this is clearly a red flag that this is a criminal organization and not a legitimate business. 

No. They advertise a lot on platforms such as Craigslist. All they advertise is for telemarketers. “We’re looking for salespeople.” There’s a lot of sales jobs on Craigslist, but in Southeast Asia, they use Craigslist a lot. Certain channels of Craigslist are known where the boiler room operations advertise. They just put out adverts—very attractive commissions, sales work, telemarketing, you need to be able to work from home. All the normal things you will see at a job advertisement.

They certainly never announce “this is criminal.” They will lure the people into the job and they will say, “We are a financial brokerage firm. We are based in Hong Kong. We need telemarketers to work from home. You can work from anywhere at all. We’re going to give you the lead sheets. You’re going to ring up all day. You’re going to read out a script, and you’re going to sell these stocks and shares.”

That’s how it works. Then comes a point where the telemarketer comes to the realization that, “Hey, this is not right. This is fraud.” These organizations are so bold. They’re so ruthless and bold. They threaten the person with harm if they are to say anything. They threaten them. They threaten their lives sometimes. They’re just horrible people.

Once the person realizes it’s a criminal enterprise and they say something as, “Well, you better keep doing it because now you’re part of the criminal enterprise. You are now at risk. If I’m going down, you’re going down with me.” That sort of thing.

Absolutely. And they will say, “We’re the only ones that can protect you.” What they would say is, “You are now working with us. You’re with us. You are protected. We’ve got the chief of police on our payroll; nothing is going to happen to us. If anything does, we will get you out of trouble. But if you abandon ship, you’re on your own and you could get into a lot of trouble.”

They manipulate the minds of these young men that come out from Canada, the United States, and the UK and work in these operations. Eastern Europe is filled with these types of operations—Bulgaria, Ukraine, Georgia, Albania, and even South Africa. There are hundreds and hundreds of these call centers that are committing large-scale financial crimes across the world.

Do you find that they actually have the in-person physical call centers? Do they have local police on their payroll?

Absolutely. That’s part of the business model. They are set up in countries where they can manipulate law enforcement. In Southeast Asia, the levels of corruption are unbelievable. The amount of corruption in Southeast Asian countries—people on the payroll, very high-ranking law enforcement officials, government officials, intelligence officials—when it comes to money, these are financial crimes. These are crimes that are extremely profitable. This is what everyone wants. It’s the money. 

It’s a very easy type of crime to get an official to turn a blind eye because nobody’s getting hurt, nobody’s getting murdered, nobody’s physically harmed. This is just fraud. This is just cleaning out the finances of gullible investors around the world. The way they sell it, it’s almost like there is no harm that they’re doing to the victim.

These are rich people from the United States who have so much money, they don’t know what to do with it. If they lost a few $100,000 it wouldn’t impact their lives. They’re still going to be able to feed their children. So there’s really no harm happening.

Absolutely. I’ve sat in prison cells in the Philippines face-to-face with British members of these gangs. They’ve told me to my face that these investors are greedy. They deserve to lose their money. They keep coming back over and over again. They’re so greedy that they just can’t help themselves, so we take advantage of that and we’re more than happy to take their money.

From the investor, the individual side, and the target victim, what are the red flags that these people should be watching out for?

Well, the big red flag when you are dealing in an insane investment of some sort is that you should never deal with somebody unless you can get on a video call with that person and talk to them face-to-face for a start. All these criminals, all these cybercriminals, these fraudsters, all hide behind the mask of being anonymous. That is the way that they are successful.

The way to circumvent that is, number one, ask for a video call. If they will not do a video call, if they will not show their face, do not do business with them of any sort. If they will say, “Oh, it’s company policy, we’re not allowed. Because of security reasons we’re not allowed to do a video call with you.” Well, if that’s the case, then you don’t want to do business with any firm, plus some due diligence. What is extraordinary, we’ve got clients who have lost tens of millions of dollars, but they haven’t spent $1000 doing some basic checks. The due diligence is non-existent.

That I find is the most extraordinary thing that I see on a regular basis is a complete lack of due diligence where they will believe what they see on a website and what they read in press releases, which have been published by the criminals themselves on self-publishing platforms. They read material on the internet and they believe it. 

Once they believe it and they believe that they’re going to get a good deal on the shares, which are 25% lower than the retail price—they’re just going to throw money into it because they see this opportunity, which is an illusion. It’s actually a trick and they fall for it. Video call is number one. Just some basic due diligence on…

What would you consider some of that basic due diligence?

Firstly, find out how long the company has been operating. Do a check on the domain to find out when it was registered, whether the registered domain is in the name of a company or a person. Where is it registered? Has it been masked by a domain proxy provider, which is a red flag. Why don’t they want to know who owns the website? 

Also, where’s the company domiciled? Where’s the actual office? The very simple way to catch most of these scammers is to ask them where their office is based. Where’s it registered? Where’s the company registered? Who are the directors of the company? Who is the managing director or the president of the company? Where is it registered?

Of course, they can’t answer any of these questions because these companies are not registered. They’re not real. If they give you an office address, it will be fake. So you send someone to that address to do a physical check and they’re not there. The questions are quite simple and the answers are very easily verifiable because they’re lying. We catch them all the time.

I’ll tell you a very funny story. The other day I said to one of my victims in the United Kingdom—he was getting these calls from this guy. We had a feeling that this group that was calling him was from Ukraine. They had Eastern European accents. We know there’s some really big operations in Ukraine. But he said he was calling from an address in London. I said to him, “Tell the scammer that you’ve got special software in your phone that actually reveals the real location of where you’re calling from.” 

He said to the guy on the phone, “I’ve got this software that actually identifies your location and this is telling me you’re running from Ukraine.” The guy said, “Well yes, actually, I am. But our main office is in London, and we work remotely.” So he actually admitted it. We let them scam him because he’s got caught thinking, “What do I do?” It was just a trick, of course, but he was in Ukraine.

They just lie. They have scripts. These people are highly trained on how to lie to get people’s confidence. They have what they call rebuttals. They script this out. They learn it over and over a thousand times like an actor learning a Shakespearean play on Broadway. They know what to say, when to say it, and how to say it. It’s all rehearsed.

It’s funny because, in some sense, those are some sort of training that a legitimate organization that’s selling a product or service will do. We’re going to bring all these salespeople into the meeting and we’re going to have the “overcoming objections” meeting. Here are the top 10 objections.

Correct. It’s all sales. It’s sales, and these people are good. These criminals that work for these organizations are very, very clever. These are some of the best salesmen on the planet. I mean, you’ve seen Wolf of Wall Street. You know Jordan Belfort. These are Jordan Belfort-trained. Some of these people do Jordan Belfort’s courses. They are highly trained salespeople who are there for one purpose, and that is to get you to give them money.

Yeah, I can totally see that. Are there any additional kinds of things that someone should be watching out for? I think you talked about the stock being 25%. If it’s a stock offering, you can get it through us for like 25% off the IPO price.

Yeah. IPOs and the selling of stocks and shares are very, very common. That’s a big scam. It’s the most profitable because of the amounts of money involved. It’s quite easy to verify whether a company issues share certificates, for example. 

Some of these criminal organizations will offer share certificates to their customers. They purport to be a financial advisory firm, and they will offer financial share certificates, actual share certificates. Whereas the company, whether it’s a big public company—Dropbox or one of the big American Airbnb shares or something like that—a lot of these companies do not issue share certificates anymore. Share certificates are often a thing of the past.

So when they’re issued share certificates, they can easily find out. They can go to companies that actually verify whether or not the share certificates exist or whether it’s fake. That’s not a difficult thing to do, or even contact the company themselves and ask them whether or not this financial advisory firm has a license to sell their shares.

The number one red flag with any scam organization is they’re unregulated. If they’re not regulated in a certain country, then that’s a red flag not to do any business with them. The problem is that they will clone a regulated firm, and they will set up their name. They will say that their name is Ever FX or something and they will clone a real firm, a real regulated firm. 

What they do is they talk to the victim on the phone, and they say, “We’re calling from this company.” They will send links on the email to the victim while they’re talking to them saying, “You can click on here. You can see all of our reputation. You can see our FCA, Financial Conduct Authority license here. You can see this and this.” And the person is actually looking at all the real information. Then they will guide them to their website. 

After the person has done their due diligence, they will send them an invitation to set up an account on their website, which has an additional extension on the domain name, which is actually the clone’s domain. They now start their trading with a company that’s purely clone.

That’s a very common practice that we’re seeing now, particularly with these large-scale investment fraud trading platform-type cases, the crypto platforms, crypto trading. You see these Bitcoin revolutions, Bitcoin era, Bitcoin this, Bitcoin that. They’re using all these sophisticated Bitcoin videos to rope people into engaging on that platform.

Have you dealt with any fraudulent cryptocurrency exchanges as part of your investigations?

Absolutely, yeah. We’ve got several of them now that we’re investigating in Eastern Europe, countries like Estonia. Some of these syndicates—a lot of them are tracing back to the Israeli binary options industry. I don’t know if you’re aware of that, but the binary options industry was making about $5 billion US a year in fraud. It was outlawed in Israel in 2017. Binary options were probably one of the largest criminal incomes in the world for investment fraud. It was a massive, massive criminal industry.

The Israeli government announced that they have lost control of this monstrous criminal industry. So all these Israeli gangs that were operating have all left Israel now. They’ve set up shop in South Africa, in Bulgaria, in Ukraine, in the Philippines, all these different countries. Cyprus is riddled with boiler rooms, and they’ve set up these operations. Now they’re spread across the world, essentially. It’s become almost like an epidemic.

Yeah, that’s horrible. It just makes me think of rats seeing a sinking ship—they just go everywhere.

That’s what happened, actually. A lot of them left Israel. They’re not all Israelis. But the industry is dominated by Israelis because they have the technology. They have the platforms. The whole industry is dominated by these Israeli crime groups that have this enormous ability to do digital marketing across the world. They’re popping up on everyone’s Facebook accounts all over the planet.

Yeah, it makes it hard for people to figure out what is legit, what is not legit.

Absolutely.

Particularly when it comes to emerging technology and emerging financial instruments.

Well, absolutely. Cryptocurrencies are bringing all sorts of new challenges. Bitcoin is traceable on the blockchain. So it’s not that Bitcoin can be transferred somewhere and it vanishes. Bitcoin itself is on the blockchain. It’s traceable all over the world, but it’s the exit points that are difficult to trace, where the money gets taken out. Quite often, there are unregulated exchanges in places like Eastern Europe and some poor countries where they will exchange Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies.

These fraudsters—the big groups that I’m talking about—are so sophisticated, they don’t need to use unregulated exchanges. They buy their own exchanges. They’re so wealthy that they buy their own banks. They own banks in Indonesia. They are buying into the infrastructure. They own the VoIP companies. They own telecommunications companies. They own some of these crypto exchanges in countries like Estonia. We know that some of these criminal masterminds have put clean skin people into regulated exchanges in Estonia. 

That’s pretty dangerous stuff. When you think about the fact that these are regulated. The money’s going through, so that when we try to do law enforcement action, civil action or anything against the exchange, the masterminds are immediately tipped off. The exchange will go to all sorts of efforts to muddy the waters so that we don’t really find out who received the money. This is what’s happening in the world of cybercrime these days. It’s becoming so sophisticated that the average government law enforcement agency is left in the dark.

Your local community law enforcement agency is not going to be able to help you out.

Not at all. The sophistication of these groups can’t be overstated. These people just fly around on their own private jumbo jets, and I’m serious. We are seeing people that are making hundreds of millions of dollars per year in profits—just profits. They are engaging in all sorts of other organized criminal activities, not just fraud. These are criminals. They’re involved in criminal activity. They have their own agendas. They are linked to political causes.

The waters are very muddied now when it comes between fraud, which law enforcement has traditionally classified as a low-risk, low-level type of offense. But now we see some of the biggest criminal groups in the world raising money through fraud because it’s high profit and low risk. Why wouldn’t you do it?

Yeah. It’s a lot easier to steal $10 million from an investor than it is to make $10 million off of moving illicit drugs or weapons around the world.

Absolutely. Those old-fashioned crimes are still going on. But we are seeing just such an enormous amount of criminal profits getting transferred around the world in a matter of seconds too through crypto exchanges and so forth. Some of these groups have mastered the art of how to launder money to countries that don’t cooperate with each other as well. Money will go from the United States to another unspecified country—one that I won’t name—but countries where they just don’t traditionally cooperate with the United States. They do their research very well. 

Then they will go to a third country that doesn’t cooperate with that country. They actually play law enforcement. It’s like a game to them. They sit back and they have huge celebrations. They laugh at the incompetence of some of the governments that they’re stealing money from these victims. It’s almost a running joke within these organizations. I know that because we have people inside some of these organizations feeding us information. We know what is being said and how they see the rest of the world.

Have you had much luck? We’ve talked a little bit about recovery and you’ve had some large wins on recovery. What does that process look like? What’s the likelihood of getting a portion of funds back if they’ve been involved in something like this?

If we can identify the offenders and we can prosecute them or unveil their identities, the chances of recovery then become quite significant because these criminals hide behind the fact that they’re not identified. They don’t want to be publicly known. They don’t want to be revealed. Where I’ve found, I guess, a niche market in asset recovery is the ability to go and prosecute these people and have them arrested. 

I’ve done a lot of operations in the Philippines over the years. I used to do counterfeit drugs investigations for companies like Pfizer. I used to do anti-piracy for organizations like the Motion Picture Association of America. I did some very high-profile work over the years. That got me warmed up and trained up into going after criminal fraudsters. That was a whole new ballgame because these are, I guess, more dangerous criminals, more ruthless. They have more corrupt police on their payroll. It’s a different level again. I found myself going after these types of groups.

When we started arresting some of these people, we would find that they were desperately trying to pay their way out of going to prison. There were some settlements in some of my earlier cases five, six years ago when we kind of turned and focused on asset recovery. We got some incredible settlements, $2.2 million, $6 million in one case that we seized in a bank account. We found a lot of other smaller recoveries. We found that if we identify the offenders, we actually can then freeze their bank accounts or freeze their assets. We go after them with civil lawsuits, court orders, and injunctions. It kind of really worries them.

“The only way to get me to back off is to pay my client back,” I told these guys to their faces when we arrested them—we dragged them away in handcuffs. If you want to get out of this mess, you need to pay the victim back the money. That’s what we’re there for, really, is to force that. It doesn’t work in other countries, where those practices are acceptable. In other countries, there are some foreign governments, such as South Africa, who have a fantastic restitution process. They actually say to the criminals that, “If you don’t pay the money back, you’re facing 15 years in prison.” So they do it instead of me doing it.

South Africa has probably some of the best restitution laws on the planet when it comes to recovering money for victims. Some countries are very favorable to the victims. Other countries, like Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, these Southeast Asian countries, are not favorable at all to the victim. They’re favorable towards the criminal, so the only process you have in these countries is the criminal process. But if you kick their doors in with a police team, you arrest them, and they’re locked up, your bargaining power then becomes quite significant. Most of them have the money to pay.

We’ve used this type of leverage against some of these criminal groups very effectively. In other cases, we’ve won civil proceedings, got judgments, and taken the money through court orders. It does work, but the problem is it’s costly. So you have to have those budgets. Someone’s got to fork out that money to engage someone like us because there’s a lot of work involved. We’re doing the criminal briefs of evidence. We’re putting it all together. We’re handing it to the police so that they review it, and just go out and apply for the search warrants.

You’re not a recovery as a service company where you pay us $100 and we’ll get you your $1000 back. 

No, no, it’s a different level.

Several orders of magnitude above that, I assume.

Yeah, absolutely. We were quite unique in the sense that we’ve done a lot of these cases, and some of them have been highly successful. We tend to take the media with us these days because we like to publish our cases. We like to expose the scammers. We like to expose how the scams work so that we can warn the general public.

One of our cases busted in 60 Minutes Australia won the Kennedy Media Award in 2019 for the Most Outstanding Current Affairs Story of the Year. These are very interesting stories. We got $530,000 back in that case. Within two minutes of kicking the doors in of the office, we were at their finance department looking at their bank account details, and we had that account frozen in Australia immediately by the bank. The only way to get recovery from these people is to take the fight to them. That’s what we do.

As you guys master the process, that will trickle down to non-high wealth individuals and large companies but down to where it’d be accessible to other people.

Absolutely, yeah. I wish we could do more for the little people, the ones that have lost still a lot of money, maybe $100,000. People that have lost their superannuation, their life savings, and it is a devastating crime. I don’t think people realize the effect of financial crime on the victim. It’s so devastating. It’s the worst type of crime because when you lose your financial freedom, your ability to retire happily, or buy a holiday home—when you lose all of that work that you’ve done all those years—it has a certain emotional effect on you. It leaves you in absolute ruin.

I think it’s one of the most devastating crimes against humanity. To steal someone’s livelihood is robbing them of their dreams. It’s taking away their ability to support their family. It’s taking all those fundamental rights away from that person who has worked, possibly, for 30 years to build up some sort of financial freedom. Some will say, “Oh, well, they deserve it because they’re greedy, they’re this, or they’re that.” That’s not actually true.

A lot of these victims that I dealt with didn’t want to invest. The only reason they invested is because they wanted to do the best for their son or their daughter, or they wanted to put their daughter through college. They decided to take a risk because they really wanted to see their children go to a private school or have a better education. A lot of the reasons these people are investing is to help other people. It’s not even for themselves. It’s not a true statement to say that the victims are greedy and so forth.

There’s this sort of the wrong impression of all the victims. There are certainly victims that are greedy and the ones that have been silly, in a way, irresponsible by not doing due diligence and so forth. But the majority of these victims are normal people—moms and dads of the United States, Australia, Canada, or other countries that are just battling and they want to make a difference, so they decide to invest. They come across something that looks like a deal of a lifetime. They are eventually robbed of all their dreams.

On the flip side of that, I’ve sat with criminals in the Philippines. Initially, I used to do some undercover work in the Philippines where I would go to the bars and drink where some of these guys were working. I’ll never forget one day, a guy from Florida, an American, a young man working in a boiler room. He was quite drunk. He broke down in tears, he started crying because he was telling me how he works for this organization. His words were, “I’m robbing the dreams of people and I feel really bad about it.” This was coming from a seasoned professional conman.

These people do have a conscience. They know what they’re doing is a horrible crime. They know the devastating effect that it has. At the end of the day, these criminals have to carry that on their conscience for the rest of their life.

Yeah, I suppose the “they’re just greedy investors” is the way to assuage their own guilt.

That’s correct. That’s part of the training. It’s justification. We can justify what we’re doing because these investors got more money than sense. Like you said earlier on, a wealthy American businessman is so bored. He’s sitting on a 60-foot yacht down in Florida with nothing to do, so he decides to do a bit of crypto trading.

The way they see it is that they are well and truly justified with targeting a victim like that. In their own minds, they are justified because they think, “Well, this guy can afford to lose it.” That’s just the justification that these criminals play in their minds over and over again.

In order to help them sleep at night.

Absolutely. It’s all part of their training.

As we wrap up here, I wanted to ask you. You’ve been a private investigator for 33 years and working with cybercrime. Have you ever fallen victim to a scam or cybercrime yourself?

No, I haven’t. I haven’t ever been a victim of anything online. Not that I’m aware of. I’ve always been cautious. I don’t really buy online. I’m not one of those people that shop online. I guess I’m very cautious about doing anything online. I can proudly say that I have never fallen victim to anything on the internet. I hope I never do, and as I said, I’ve certainly had enough experience to know what sort of things to look for. I hope that I never will.

I’m a bit concerned about my son. One of my sons at the moment is dabbling in cryptocurrency and I keep telling him to be very, very cautious. He’s convinced me that he knows what he’s doing. I just have that horrible feeling that one of these days he’s going to come, “Hey, dad, I just lost my $750, which I’ve been saving.” He’s investing in a crypto mining company at the moment. He’s mining his own crypto. 

Look, it’s a fantastic thing. Cryptocurrency is exciting. But boy, you have to be very, very cautious about what you do with it and how you deal with it. Certainly do your homework and do your research before engaging with anybody that claims they can make you wealthy.

Yeah, that’s always a red flag. I can make you fabulously wealthy.

Absolutely. It’s amazing how the scams have morphed from the old days when there used to be facsimiles sent to people with certain offers or even letters. Back in the old Nigerian prince days, there was an actual letter in an envelope, then that person would respond, and they would go on for weeks and months. Now that same scam is still happening, but it’s exponential in the speed of what is now. It all happens within a matter of hours sometimes. The victim can fall within a matter of hours.

That’s one of the things that I always warn people about. If things are moving fast, whether it’s financial or romance, wave your hands in the air. It’s red flags. I think back to those days when those were happening via postal mail and faxes. You’ve got lots of time to let the emotions wear down on these. How did you fall for it? I understand it now when you’re in the moment and it’s a real-time exchange. But when you had to put a letter in the mail and wait two weeks for a response.

Absolutely. If anybody’s investing or thinking of investing, they just need to take a step back. They need to talk to somebody, even a member of their family. They need to talk to somebody else about what they’re thinking of doing. Get a second opinion. Reach out, have a look at this website. Have a look at the trading platform. If it’s unregulated, don’t go near it because the unregulated platforms are almost exclusively run by large criminal organizations. That money never ever comes out. It goes in, but never comes out. 

Those simple due diligence steps can save an enormous amount of grief, enormous amounts of money, enormous amounts of heartache, and save you from financial ruin by some very simple steps of taking a deep breath and having a think about what you’re about to do. Maybe turn to somebody that does know a little bit about websites to just do some due diligence and checks. Before long, you’re going to find those red flags and you’ve possibly saved yourself from an enormous amount of grief.

That’s great advice. If people want to find you online, where can they find you?

Our website is www.ifwglobal.com. IFW Global has a website, and obviously, there’s an inquiry form there. If anybody has any questions or advice about scams, or if someone has lost their money and they want to find out what recovery options are available, we’re more than happy to help them.

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