Wednesday, November 30, 2022

FIA reveals how fraudsters fleeced Batswana out of P14 million

The Financial Intelligence Agency (FIA) has revealed how Batswana lost over P14 million to fraudsters in a space of five months last year.

In a report released recently, the Agency said in one case, a syndicate of seven individuals with four business entities defrauded the public out of millions of Pula.

Using a total of 16 bank accounts to funnel the funds, the syndicate received funds in the five months period of February to June 2021 as follows: Cash deposits through Automated Teller Machines , amount involved was 11 203 800 and for electronic wallet, amount involved was 2 930 496.

The total was P14 134 296.

The report says financial intelligence relating to the case was disseminated to the relevant authorities for appropriate action.

“Fraudsters target individuals and established companies into believing they are engaged in business deals when in fact the tenders are fake,” the report says.

The report shows that fraudsters impersonate senior officials in businesses or government agencies to establish contact with unsuspecting businesspersons/agents.

“The businessperson were then offered a tender worth millions to supply specialized equipment. The fraudsters operated by emailing Invitation to Tender (ITT) documents which resembled and in the format of the impersonated entity’s ITT thereby extremely convincing to the businessperson,” the report says.

According to the report, the scammer then directed the businessperson to a fictitious website domain where the products to be procured were to be sourced.

“In all the cases reported, the products were to be sourced outside the country. Fake foreign cellphone and landline numbers appearing as local phone numbers were provided to discuss the supply. Once invoices were produced and paid, the website and phone numbers were then discontinued,” report says.

The cases are currently under investigation, FIA said.

The report also noted that some consumers were targeted through online romance scammers. It says these are individuals who turn to online dating applications of social networking sites to find partners.

“Romance scammers create fake profiles on dating site, applications or popular social media sites like Facebook and Instagram. The scammers strike up a relationship with the victim to build trust by giving them love and attention,” the report says.

It says individuals are overtime made to believe there is a romantic relationship after which they ask for financial assistance or send pictures of expensive gifts that are purported to have been acquired for the victim. “The trick is to make the victims believe such gifts exist and then coerce them to send funds to pay for transportation costs and tax clearance,” the report says.

On the other hand, the report says, worshippers are fooled into parting with their money by being made to contribute to some online church or a worthy cause.

“The church minister imposters have turned out to be fraudsters raising funds to support their personal lifestyle. The FIA has observed that such transactions are mostly facilitated through money or value transfer service providers,” says the report.

In December 2021, a total of 19 STRs were filed by one (1) money or value service provider under this scam.

On other related matters, the agency said for the period January to December 2021, it received a total of 167 Suspicious Transaction Reports (STRs) with a combined value of P394, 812, 895 as compared to 102 STRs valued at P76, 531,019 for the same period in the year 2020.

“The number of STRs increased significantly between the two years, at 63.72%.There is also a corresponding increase of over 400% in the value of reported STRs,” the report says.

The report says following submission, the STRs are put through a risk matrix to assign risk scores and prioritise those of higher impact, using a number of risk variables identified for the period.

“Of the 167 STRs filed in the period, 140 were prioritized for analysis whilst 35 were kept for intelligence purposes only. In both years a significant portion of the STRs were filed by the banking sector as was the case in previous years,” the report says.  However, the report found, a substantial increase in the number of STRs reported by the bureau de change sector was observed in 2021.

FIA said during the period under review, the most reported underlying predicate offence was fraud, in particular, obtaining by false pretenses from the public under the pretext of investing in virtual assets.

According to the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), the term virtual asset refers to any digital representation of value that can be digitally traded, transferred or used for payment and investment purposes. However, virtual assets do not include digital representation of fiat currencies, securities and other financial assets.

“Cybercrime continues to escalate in scale and complexity with the increase in online usage. During the period January to December 2021 a total of 31 reports were received involving the defrauding of the public in the pretext of investing in cryptocurrencies,” the report says.

The report says syndicates and individual fraudsters using business and personal bank accounts funnel funds from the public under the pretext of investing in virtual currency more specifically bitcoins.

“The public is coerced using mostly social circles and media to avoid face-to-face contact. New payment methods such as electronic wallets and mobile money transfer service are the preferred avenues to solicit funds from victims,” the report says.

Typically, the report says, the first few ‘investors’ earn their funds back with interest whilst the rest lose out as their funds are used to settle earlier ‘investors’ and the rest is used to finance luxurious goods and lifestyle of the fraudsters.

“The luxury lifestyle and goods for some of the syndicate members include luxury hotel stays, purchasing of vehicles and financial gifts to loved ones and associates,” the report says.

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