Elaborate scam allegedly used leading finance app to trick victims out of superannuation

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Australian victims of a sophisticated superannuation scam have raised concerns about how they were given access to a leading finance app which they claim gave them false confidence their money was safe.

Three scam victims have told the ABC’s 7.30 program they were signed up to use a software product, including an app, to oversee their self-managed super funds.

The software was by Class, a subsidiary of the ASX-listed wealth management technology provider Hub24.

Class confirmed it had received three complaints about the use of its software by external businesses.

In a statement Class said an investigation by the corporate regulator ASIC “was in progress in relation to a third party”, adding: “Class is not under investigation.”

7.30 is not suggesting Class had any knowledge or involvement in the scam.

It follows an investigation by 7.30 which revealed a call centre in the Philippines was raided by police, who are examining possible links to multi-million-dollar scams targeting Australians for their retirement nest eggs.

No charges have been laid against a British man allegedly involved in running the call centre or 30 other people, as authorities continue to comb through the contents of seized computers.

The raid was triggered by private cyber-crime investigation firm IFW Global lodging a criminal complaint on behalf of six Australian victims.

They claim to have lost $3.3 million in two scams that targeted their superannuation and are allegedly linked to the call centre.

‘Not happy’

One scam “cloned” or misused real details without permission from a company called Australian Securities Administration Limited (ASAL) Group, which is controlled by financial giant AMP.

Victims say the cloning and other deceptive tactics made the scam appear like a legitimate financial advice firm that was regulated in Australia.

They were encouraged to set up self-managed super funds to invest in a high-return product, but claim their money was later stolen.

Part of the criminal complaint in the Philippines includes details about how the victims allege the Class portal was misused.

Rob Wade, a builder from Gympie in regional Queensland, lost almost $200,000 and has been desperately trying to get it back ever since.

In May last year he took a call from an Australian man claiming to be from ASAL Group.

Mr Wade ended up having extensive dealings with the Australian and another man who had detailed knowledge of the superannuation industry.

“It looked fairly interesting. He let me sort of sit on it for a couple of days, so there was never any pressure about it,” Mr Wade said.

When Mr Wade agreed to go ahead with ASAL Group he says he was given access to the Class portal so he could track how his self-managed super fund was performing.

He claims he was shown how to use Class over the phone by a man purporting to be from ASAL Group.

The man told him he would see his money quickly grow.

“They just talked me through the app,” Mr Wade said.

“They actually supplied me with an app, and you can see everything on the app … showed me what the money was doing.”

“No sign anything was wrong … our super name up there, everything, the money, the dates of transfers.”

Mr Wade has screen shots from the Class portal showing a breakdown of how his money was invested, from equities to cash and property.

The portal displayed strong returns from a managed fund he was meant to be invested in.

Mr Wade claims the returns he saw on the Class portal encouraged him to invest further amounts with ASAL Group.

But not long afterwards he was unable to see the amounts he’d transferred on the portal.

Eventually Mr Wade found out he had been scammed.

“Not happy, that’s all I can say,” he said.

“I felt really sick, you know, you get that really sick feeling in your stomach.”

AMP issued an urgent security alert to the public within 24 hours of the fake ASAL Group site being identified in June last year, an AMP spokesperson said.

“We are sorry to hear the experience of people who fell victim to this scam,” the spokesperson said.

“Of the five AMP customers that fell victim to the scam, AMP was able to recover or reimburse funds for all but one,” they said.

“In instances where people are concerned they may have been scammed, it is critical to contact their financial institution as quickly as possible to increase the chances of funds being recovered.”

‘I was gutted’

Victorian IT professional Louie Rinaldi is also a victim of the scam and lost hundreds of thousands of dollars.

He felt confident to continue investing with ASAL Group after being given access to the Class portal.

“After I did the first deposit … they gave you a link a portal and set up an account for you,” he said.

“Within a day those funds were in there and I thought, ‘Oh good, I’ll transfer more.'”

Mr Rinaldi checked the portal regularly over almost two months and continued to see solid growth.

However, when he logged on in early July last year the portal was blank.

“I tried to get on and it sort of let me log in and it basically said ‘no registration found’, or words to that effect.”

He grew increasingly concerned when the man he’d been dealing with at ASAL Group couldn’t be contacted.

Mr Rinaldi was able to speak with others claiming to be in the ASAL Group office who reassured him the portal was down and would soon be fixed.

Then he received a call from his bank delivering devastating news.

The Australian bank account he’d paid his super funds into, the very money he thought had been growing, had actually been the subject of fraudulent activity.

“I was gutted. It was like somebody had just, you know, taken your whole life and turned it upside down.

“It’s really hard to get any kind of support.”

‘Very concerning’

Australian cyber-crime investigator Ken Gamble, from IFW Global, is being paid by some of the victims to try and track down those responsible and recover their money.

Mr Gamble believes their accounts of how the Class portal was allegedly misused by the scammers raises significant concerns.

He is not suggesting Class had any direct contact with people involved in the scam.

“It’s very concerning,” Mr Gamble said.

“Class has to look a lot closer at scrutinising their own customers.”

In a statement Class said: “Class is a software service provider … designed to be used by accountants and financial services businesses to efficiently upload data, either from third-party data feeds or manually by the accountant or other relevant financial professional, to enable them to provide financial accounts and associated reports for their SMSF and other customers.”

The company confirmed it had received three complaints about how external businesses had used its software.

“In each case Class investigated the complaint and notified ASIC,” the company said.

“In each case Class was advised by ASIC that an investigation was in progress in relation to a third party.

“Given legal confidentiality obligations regarding the sharing of specific customer information, it is not appropriate for Class to provide further comment.”

ASIC investigating

7.30 put specific questions about the ASAL Group scam, including the alleged misuse of the Class software, to ASIC.

In a statement Sarah Court, ASIC’s deputy chair, said: “These questions involve numerous matters and persons of interest to ASIC.

“One matter is already before the criminal courts, and ASIC’s investigations elsewhere are continuing — some at an advanced stage.

“ASIC wrote to AMP last year alerting it to the potential misuse of Australian Securities Administration Limited’s name and Australian Financial Services Licence. Following this, AMP published a warning on its website.

“ASIC also issued its own warning about these types of scams in May last year highlighting the need for consumers to exercise great caution whenever contacted to open a [self-managed super fund] account, and to always seek independent, trustworthy advice.”

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(Original ABC Article)