Nigerian man ran email scam from Villawood detention centre, police say | Money

A Nigerian man ran a multimillion-dollar email scam out of Villawood immigration detention centre, using 16 mobile phones and 17 sim cards, police will allege in court.

The 43-year-old man is among four people arrested and charged over the long-running scam that defrauded small businesses, stole identities, and deceived would-be lovers online. The deceptions stole more than $3m from Australians online.

Police will allege the Nigerian man was the ringleader, running 16 mobile phone and 17 sim cards to coordinate the scam, all from inside Villawood detention centre. He is set to face court in Sydney later on Friday.

DetSupt Arthur Katsogiannis from NSW police said investigators believe the money was sent to Nigeria, and that it was “highly unlikely” any funds would ever be recovered.

“We can’t establish at this stage who it’s gone to or what it’s being used [for],” he told reporters in Sydney on Friday.

“We are working with our international law enforcement colleagues to establish what’s happened to that money.”

The Nigerian man was charged with knowingly directing activities of a criminal group, two counts of knowingly dealing with proceeds of crime and possessing identity information to commit an indictable offence.

He is due to appear at the Bankstown local court later on Friday.

A 36-year-old woman, as well as a 20-year-old man and woman, were also arrested and charged with various offences.

They are due to face Parramatta local court on 2 October.

Katsogiannis urged Australians to be extra careful when giving away information online, saying scams have emotional and psychological impacts beyond the financial losses.

“People have committed suicide after losing their life savings,” he said.

“It’s costing taxpayers millions of dollars every year, not only in Australia but worldwide, and that’s why it’s important to identify these people.”

Investigations are continuing and further arrests have not been ruled out.

ABF detention operations commander Bill Ries said the alleged criminal syndicate’s activities were a demonstration that mobile phones should be banned inside immigration detention centres.

“The ABF has been making the case for some time for powers to remove phones from detainees within immigration detention centres, many of whom have had their visas cancelled for serious criminal offences,” Ries said.

“We know phones can be used to coordinate escape efforts, as a commodity of exchange, to facilitate the movement of contraband, to convey threats and, in this case, to organise significant criminal activity outside our centres.”

The government has tried for years to remove phones from inside immigration detention centres, but have been consistently defeated in the courts, which have defended people’s rights to communication.

Phones are a lifeline for many held in immigration detention. For many, phones are the only link to the outside world, and the only contact with family members or with lawyers seeking to have them released.

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