Aussie cyber sleuth Ken Gamble is online scammers’ worst nightmare

Ken Gamble  derives a good deal of satisfaction when he accompanies police raiders making arrests.

Ken Gamble derives a good deal of satisfaction when he accompanies police raiders making arrests. Photo: AAP

Taking on some of the world’s most sophisticated criminal gangs is not for everyone, but it’s all in a day’s work for cybercrime sleuth Ken Gamble.

The private investigator is something of an online Robin Hood, often outnumbered and always outgunned while seeking justice for ordinary people ripped off by scoundrels.

Yet his merry band of men, armed with specialist skills honed over many years, stick it to the bad guys and reunite victims with their stolen cash.

In news reports of cybercrime busts over the past decade, there is often a regular bloke looking rather pleased amid armed police in balaclavas and panic-stricken fraudsters in handcuffs.

That’s Ken Gamble.

He has been in the game for more than three decades and is co-founder of private cybercrime investigation unit IFW Global.

Mr Gamble takes on private cases, investigates and builds evidence before taking the matters to local law enforcement. He’ll join raids, watch arrests and then appear in court as an expert witness.

From the initial complaint to sentencing, the Australian investigator is front and centre.

So there’s perhaps nobody better to share insights on the growing menace of online scams and financial cybercrime, particularly those using supposed huge returns from cryptocurrency investment as a lure.

Israel, China, Nigeria

“There’s three main nationalities in the world that are now dominating the crypto scam space,” said Mr Gamble, who spoke to AAP as part of AAP FactCheck’s investigation into crypto scams in the Pacific.

“The Israelis, they’re probably number one … then the Chinese and the Nigerians.”

For anyone who has fallen victim or seen a scam online, it likely originated from organised criminal groups from one of those three nations, Mr Gamble says. Each has its own modus operandi.

The Israelis are the most sophisticated, Mr Gamble says, targeting high-value victims in places like Australia, often for hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars.

The Chinese are all about volume and typically mass-produce unsophisticated content with the intention of getting smaller amounts, perhaps tens of thousands, from each victim.

The Nigerians are at the lowest end of the scale, gouging maybe $5000 from each victim.

“The Nigerians are not in Lagos anymore,” said Mr Gamble, referring to the African nation’s largest city.

“They’re operating out of South Africa … they’ve got compounds, secure compounds, well protected by security. They’re operating in gangs of hundreds of people.”

‘They’re evil people’

The one thing online scammers have in common is scale. They tend not to be lone operators, but are instead huge organisations that spend millions on infrastructure and have their own IT security departments.

“The Israelis have huge call centres; 200 people ringing bells to celebrate whenever they scam someone,” Mr Gamble said.

“They’re celebrating the misery of cleaning people’s wallets out. They’re evil people.”

Scammers care nothing for the lives they ruin. Photo: TND

Many of these operations also have small armies of people looking for ways to promote their scam.

“They have people who spend all day, every day, on Facebook, scanning all these groups,” Mr Gamble said.

“They reach out to people, they promote their platforms, they invite people, they have people just there to put fake stories up about how they made all this money.

“It’s that old-fashioned way where they’ll reach out and bait someone. ‘Oh, gee, that sounds good. Can you get me into that?’.

“It’s all lies, the whole industry is filled by criminals.”

Such is the growth of the industry, off-the-shelf scam packages are also now sold on the dark web.

“You can buy a platform, buy all the infrastructure to set up your own scam,” Mr Gamble said.

A victim could be scammed by a low-level criminal operating out of their garage, but it might ultimately be through a product associated with one of the organised groups.

While Mr Gamble’s unit does not have the extensive powers of a national police force, he has the flexibility to follow the breadcrumbs wherever they take him.

Global mission

He has tracked down scammers in Serbia, the Philippines and Cyprus and is currently homing in on operations in South Africa and Ukraine.

“We gather evidence on the ground and then we go to the police and say ‘we have all this evidence’,” he said.

“Once they verify it all, they then apply for a search warrant. A judge can cross-examine me about the case and about what evidence I’ve found and why I believe these people are doing what they’re doing. And then if the judge is satisfied, she or he stamps the search warrant application.”

Once an operations team is briefed and ready, Mr Gamble joins the raid and if needed, will appear in court as an expert witness.

One of his more notable investigations resulted in a series of raids in Malaysia in 2023 involving more than 80 arrests, the seizure of $4.3 million and freezing of 54 bank accounts. It was a satisfying conclusion to three years’ work.

With the bad guys in cuffs and his clients’ money returned, the job is done for Mr Gamble. But for all the success stories, many more scammers are getting away with it.

Mr Gamble says not enough is being done by law enforcement both in Australia and abroad.

“It has left a trail of devastation and destruction across our country,” he said of the human impact of the crimes.

“Hundreds of people, thousands of people devastated, some of them taking their life because of the pain and suffering that they’ve had to endure.”

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