Keyboard Fraudsters Running Amok
International Wire-Fraud and Money Laundering
- As we had stated previously, the COVID-19 Pandemic exposed the best and the worst in humanity.
- Online Fraudsters were among the worst lot
- Could Amazon’s silence be a confirmation of complicity?
- Does Financial Intelligence Centre have strong enough teeth to hold Jeff Bezos accountable?
- On a closer look, we found that the scam targets other countries as well including India.
On the New Year’s Day of 2021 Washington Post reported its owner and Amazon’s founder, Jeff Bezos as having added US$70b to his net worth during the COVID-19 Pandemic. Could parts of this $ 70 billion have come from fraud committed against South African public?
Thousands of South Africans have been defrauded in a scheme that is using Bezos’ company name. For months, the uSpiked Investigative Team has quietly been tracking an international syndicate that has taken advantage of the public’s eagerness to work remotely. Going by the name Amazon Rebate Mall, the syndicate recruits unsuspecting members of the public via text messages then immediately transfers them to the WhatsApp messaging App before ultimately landing them on the encrypted Telegram.
uSpiked got alerted to the syndicate after one of our freelance contributors came across an online forum filled with complaints from victims. Soon after we started looking into the matter one of our cellphone numbers received a text message that screamed; ‘Work at home for five minutes to earn 3,000-9,000 rand, monthly income of 200,000 rand…’ still not sure whether the invite was connected to what we were investigating, we signed up. What better way to know how the scheme works if not from the inside?
Like marked bills, we wanted to follow the movement of our money. And we did. While we started the process with clear knowledge that it was a scam, thousands of South African victims do not have the privilege. In the process, we were able to identify other secondary victims in the syndicate, those South Africans whose local bank accounts were being used to receive the funds from primary victims. On identification of some of the secondary victims, we created a database which led us to confirm that while nearly all local banks are somehow used in receiving the funds, 82.6% of Secondary victims bank with Capitec Bank.
Primary victims are directed to perform what they call ‘Recharge your account’. This recharge means the victims must deposit the required amounts into these bank accounts, and once the deposit is confirmed, the primary victims are supplied with additional tasks to complete from home. The operators inform the primary victims that they would only be able to withdraw the funds due to them only upon completing the new tasks.
Ironically, on completing the provided tasks, which involve further recharges, the operators come up with new demands, “According to the contract signed between the shopping mall and the South African government, all South African residents with a daily income of 0-200,000 ZAR must pay 18% personal income tax.” Interestingly, this personal income tax must also be paid into yet another individual bank account provided by Capitec Bank.
“...According to the contract, the South African Commercial Law stipulates that Inter Shopping mall needs to pay 25% business tax to the South African government, and South African residents who participate in part-time jobs need to pay 18%-45% personal income tax. All fees are provided with detailed payment information for review by the relevant government authorities. Users who have not paid personal income tax cannot make high withdrawals. Refusal to pay personal income tax The mall needs to submit personal information to the relevant South African government department system to investigate the user's legal responsibility for related contracts
“As long as you pay the tax now, you can withdraw all the funds in your account.”
uSpiked has been unable to verify the existence of any such contract with any government department. Besides, all income tax payments are supposed to be made to the South African Revenue Services and not to an individual.
Knowing that the operators are using Hong Kong-issued cellphone numbers, we logically concluded that the funds received must leave South Africa at some point. So we reached out to Capitec Bank. Considering the high number of secondary victims, the bank is in a position to identify the ultimate recipients of the funds received by identified Secondary victims. Whether the funds are heading to Hong Kong or to Bezo’s outfits elsewhere to bump up his ever-increasing net worth, Capitec Bank must be able to identify these funds' movements.
Pauline Govender, Capitec Bank’s Head of Anti-Money Laundering Risk Division took our inquiry quite seriously and requested we share some of the bank accounts we had identified. We provided at least four of those bank accounts.
Shortly after we started working with Capitec Bank, we received communication from a Genevieve Sias who identified herself as Manager: AML Investigations & Reporting
MLRO. She informed us “We are investigating the scheme and have taken the necessary actions. You can appreciate that we cannot disclose the steps taken by Capitec.”
While we understand the importance of safeguarding the confidentiality of their clients, we believe that the bank has some responsibilities to the general public. The ultimate recipients of defrauded funds should not be shielded by such secrecies. Capitec may have suspended the secondary victims’ bank accounts, but that does not address the issues of the primary victims.
uSpiked then contacted Financial Intelligence Centre which is responsible for the issues under our investigations wire fraud and money laundering. Kishor Harri of FIC’s Monitoring and Analysis Unit while confirming being in possession of the records provided by Capitec Bank, stated, “Unfortunately, I will be unable to provide you with information regarding the outcome of our enquiry.
The Financial Intelligence Centre Act excludes the sharing of information with parties not authorized to receive it.”
While we are in the process of filing PAIA request with FIC for the identities of the ultimate recipients of these funds, Chandré Matlala the PR & Events manager at Capitec Bank provided us with the bank’s official response.
“Capitec takes fraud very seriously and is currently investigating the scheme and have taken the necessary actions.
“We are currently in contact with the relevant authorities concerned and will assist them in any way with the information they require to apprehend members of such schemes. As this is an active investigation, we encourage you to contact Kishor Harri from the Financial Intelligence Centre, email: ********@fic.gov.za, whom we have escalated the matter to. The FIC has confirmed that they have received our report.”
We are waiting for the said apprehension to take place. Would it go as high as Jeff Bezos? At the same time, we have contacted Amazon’s Public Relations department and for whatever reason, they have not even acknowledged receipt of our communication. Could it be that Kelly A Nantel, Amazon’s Communication Executive doesn’t regard frauds being undertaken in Africa using Amazon’s name as consequential?
Well if Bezo’s executives aren’t keen to get to the bottom of the scheme, the thousands of South Africans who have lost their funds, must now rely on the men and women at Financial Intelligence Centre to complete their investigations and apprehend the culprits.