The highly-sophisticated alleged scam involves the unlawful manipulation of legitimate electronic trading platforms, normally licensed to foreign exchange brokers who then provide the software to their clients.
The US Secret Service notified the AFP about Australian links to the predominantly US-based scam in August.
The organised crime syndicate employs a mix of social engineering techniques, including the use of dating sites, employment sites and messaging platforms, to gain the victim’s trust before mentioning investment opportunities, the AFP said.
The victims are then directed to both fraudulent and legitimate investment applications that deal in foreign exchange and cryptocurrency, which have been “maliciously manipulated” to show a false positive return on investments.
The syndicate recruits victims to a financial investment service, and manipulates the data provided through the legitimate application to encourage further investment, while concealing the fact their money has actually been stolen, the AFP alleged.
Police found more than $147.6 million in losses worldwide could be attributed to the syndicate, with most victims in the US.
Four Chinese nationals living in Sydney have been arrested and charged in connection with the case.
Two 19-year-old men were arrested in Pyrmont in October and charged with one count each of recklessly dealing with proceeds of crime.
A further two men, aged 27 and 24, were arrested at Sydney and Melbourne airports on November 24 after purchasing one-way tickets to Hong Kong.
The older men are alleged to be the Australian “controllers” of the syndicate, police say.
They were each charged with one count of dealing in proceeds of crime, and if convicted could face up to 15 years in prison.
Warning over crypto ‘wallets’ scattered in streets
AFP Detective Sergeant Salam Zreika said people should exercise “utmost caution” online.
“Refrain from investing in foreign exchange, cryptocurrency or speculative investments with people you’ve only ever encountered in the online environment,” he said.
“If you are unsure, get a second opinion from a professional, in person.”
The men are all due to face court in January.