An estimated 530 lovesick and gullible West Australians have been abandoned to send their life savings to West African scammers after WA Police pulled out of a successful joint operation with Consumer Protection. Consumer Protection Commissioner David Hillyard has implored new Police Commissioner Chris Dawson to reinstate Project Sunbird, while the former detective who started it in 2013 said authorities should not just give up because the offenders were overseas.
Project Sunbird was identifying 53 new victims a month between July and December last year when fraud squad detectives pored over transaction data from financial intelligence agency AUSTRAC. More than three-quarters of victims stopped sending money after a first warning letter from Consumer Protection. Forty per cent of those who persisted stopped after a second letter.In 2015 West Australians sent $9.7 million mostly to Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Ghana, Togo and Benin and $10 million last year, the majority lost to romance and investment scams. But the annual report of the former department of commerce tabled last week in Parliament revealed WA Police decided in November to stop analysing the data because of “resource priorities”.
Mr Hillyard confirmed the last mailout to victims was in January and “effectively we’ve been in hiatus for the last 10 months”. He said it would be logical to conclude the same number of monthly victims had been snared by scammers since then. “There’s every likelihood that there are a number of people out there who are losing funds and we’ve got to find a way in which to get this Project Sunbird up and running again,” he said.
Dom Blackshaw, a former detective senior sergeant in charge of the major fraud squad, said he feared the gains made by the program “are all slipping away”. He said he was recently contacted by a victim who had sent tens of thousands of dollars offshore and had “nowhere to go”. “There still needs to be an effort around it, not taking the eye off the ball because in two or three years time the problem gets bigger and more difficult to deal with,” he said.
A WA Police spokeswoman said resources had been directed away from Project Sunbird because the Commonwealth’s Australian Cybercrime Online Reporting Network was the proper place to report cyber crime. Cases involving offenders from a different jurisdiction “fall within the jurisdiction of other law enforcement bodies”.