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The fight to reclaim $1.8m lost to an international investment scam



It all started from just one phone call. 

Tony Camilleri was one of our most successful and respected architects, but in 2011, he nevertheless found himself reeling and overworked in the wake of the global financial crisis.

It meant that when he received a cold call offering what seemed like an ideal investment opportunity, his interest was piqued more than usual.  

READ MORE: How cybercriminals are shaping our digital future

"He said it was a Chicago-based company named Smith and Olson and that they were trying to expand their business into the South Pacific region and looking for investors there," Tony explained on the podcast Anatomy of a Scam.

Phone calls continued back and forth, small investments gradually became larger, and before long Tony had invested almost the entirety of his superannuation fund: $1.8 million.

Tony was no fool.

Smith and Olson's website was professional, their spokespeople on the other end of the line even more so, and the promised returns on his investment were dizzying – over $5 million. 

Buzzing with excitement and gratitude, Tony flew to Chicago, eager to meet the man who had made him so much money.

When he turned up to their office building, his world came crashing down.

His trusted investment partners were nowhere to be found.

Tony had fallen victim to an investment scam.

Australians lose more money to investment scams than any other type of scam.

Nearly $300 million was lost in the first nine months of 2022 – though with many Australians never reporting their losses, it's likely the true cost is much higher.

James Roberts, General Manager of Group Fraud Management Services at the Commonwealth Bank, says he is really alarmed by the "industrialised nature of scams".

"This is not thrown-together stuff," he explains.

"This is proper call centres; ergonomic seats, headsets, dual screens, standard operating procedures.

"One video I saw online actually showed them rewarding the top scammer in performance-related pay – recognising that scammer for having committed the most successful scams.

"When you start to package all that together, we're competing against businesses.

"And that for me, has probably been the biggest, and to a degree most frightening, revelation that I've had in recent times."

James also wants everyone to know the importance of reporting when you've been scammed.

"There might be some embarrassment, but it is so essential," he says.

"Tell your bank that this has happened. That disproportionately increases the chances of a recovery.

"If you were to wait for weeks, generally speaking, the money will be gone."

For Tony, the discovery of his scam sparked the fight to reclaim his money – a fight which would include global investigation, unravelling the scam industry and turning the tables back on his scammers. 

You can hear the rest of his story, along with more information on investment scams, in episode three of Anatomy of a Scam.

Deborah Knight hosts Afternoons with Deborah Knight on 2GB.

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