Daniel Andrews faces public accounts and estimates committee

Premier Daniel Andrews will face questioning about this week’s state budget and the government’s pandemic response at Parliament’s public accounts and estimates committee hearings on Friday.

He will first be asked about government expenditure and then about the state’s COVID-19 response by Labor, Liberal and crossbench MPs.

You can watch a live stream of the hearings below.

Minister for Women, Aboriginal Affairs and Family Violence Gabrielle Williams is due to front the committee from 2.30pm.

In coming weeks, other senior ministers will appear before the committee.

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Snap's Spotlight daily payout breaks from TikTok's model, focusing on paying a large number of creators rather than nurturing primarily big-follower accounts (Casey Newton/Platformer)

Casey Newton / Platformer:

Snap’s Spotlight daily payout breaks from TikTok’s model, focusing on paying a large number of creators rather than nurturing primarily big-follower accounts  —  Can you build a better TikTok with a daily lottery?  —  16 hr ago  —  Today, let’s talk about the deceptively bold …

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Foxtel, Australian newspapers financial millstones in News Corp accounts

Despite some growth, and a strong start this financial year, Foxtel and the Australian newspapers aren’t looking all that flash for News Corp.

(Image: AAP/Dean Lewins)

Books: good. Digital real estate: better. Wall Street: yummy.

But the rest of News Corp’s assets (Australian and UK newspapers and the floundering Foxtel) were financial millstones in the September quarter as the Murdoch family’s media group reported a much stronger start to the new 2020-21 financial year than it started 2019-20.

Foxtel and the Australian newspapers’ revenues fell. The Australian papers saw a 20% slump in revenues for the quarter, according to the News Corp report.

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Tasmanian Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee calls for COVID grant recipients list to be made public

The Parliamentary committee examining the Tasmanian Government’s spending on coronavirus has called for the list of small businesses that received $26 million in taxpayer-funded hardship grants to be publicly released.

Small Business Minister Sarah Courtney has repeatedly refused to detail the 3,000 businesses that received grants of up to $15,000, citing advice from the Department of State Growth that it could harm recipients’ mental health.

She has instead provided a confidential copy of the list to the MPs on the Public Accounts Committee.

The hardship grant guidelines explicitly said successful applicants’ information could be made public because the funds were public money.

Public Accounts Committee Ivan Dean wrote to Ms Courtney on Thursday afternoon requesting permission to release the list of recipients.

“It wasn’t a unanimous position, but the committee is of the position that the information should be provided publicly,” Mr Dean said.

“If that doesn’t occur, the committee will obviously consider the response received from the Minister and we would have further discussions on where we could go from here.”

The grant recipients have been revealed to MLC Ivan Dean and other committee members, and he wants the public to know too.(ABC News: Luke Bowden)

The small business hardship grants were first advertised in April at $15,000.

Businesses had to meet a set of criteria — including evidence to support a loss of revenue greater than 30 per cent — to receive the funds.

Almost 4,000 businesses applied, but at that time, there was only enough funding to help about 1,300.

Extra criteria were added after applications were received and some applicants were given $4,000 instead.

It’s not clear why some businesses received the full $15,000 and others $4,000.

Ms Courtney told a Parliamentary hearing last week applications were assessed by a specially-appointed team of about 25 employees.

“[The guidelines said that] applications will be competitively assessed on an as-needs basis at the discretion of the Department of State Growth,” Ms Courtney said.

Some questions from Public Accounts Committee member Ruth Forrest on the formal application assessment process and criteria were taken on notice, meaning an answer was not immediately available.

A woman speaking in a conference room.
Sarah Courtney speaks at the Public Accounts Committee’s inquiry into Tasmania’s COVID-19 response.(ABC News: Luke Bowden)

Speaking on the unexpected reduction in grant funding, Mr Evans told the committee: “We had a whole series of mostly micro, smaller businesses with [full-time employees] of less than four that were eligible.”

Shadow Treasurer David O’Byrne, who is one of two Labor MPs on the Public Accounts Committee, said it was a troubling process and called on the Government to come clean.

“It looks like they’ve got something to hide, and therefore they’re dragging all businesses that benefited from this program, an important program, down into the mud,” Mr O’Byrne said.

Two Liberal backbenchers make up the remainder of the committee, Franklin MP Nic Street and Lyons MP John Tucker.

‘No shame in it’

David Gardner’s family opened a boutique hotel and bar in Hobart about two years ago.

Bookings for the former Salvation Army headquarters started to drop off in January because of bushfires on the mainland.

The Gardner family had hoped March would bring relief — instead, coronavirus shut the hotel for four months.

Mr Gardner said state and federal government support had proven invaluable, with the $15,000 hardship grant “crucial” to the award-winning hotel’s continued operation.

“We would not be open now if we didn’t get that assistance,” Mr Gardner said.

Premier Peter Gutwein last week labelled questions about the hardship grants program “reprehensible” and claimed lives could be put at risk should the names of recipients be made public.

Tourism Industry Council Tasmania and the Tasmanian Chamber of Commerce and Industry has backed the Government’s stance.

Mr Gardner said he could not speak for all businesses, but he had no issue with disclosing the help his family had received.

“It’s been a really hard period as far as our mental health has gone, so [releasing the list of names] would be the smallest challenge we could face.”

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Robinhood says some customer accounts may have become target of hackers

FILE PHOTO: Vlad Tenev, co-founder and co-CEO of investing app Robinhood, speaks during the TechCrunch Disrupt event in Brooklyn borough of New York, U.S., May 10, 2016. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

October 9, 2020

(Reuters) – Fintech startup Robinhood Markets Inc said on Friday some customers might have become a target of hackers because of their personal email accounts being compromised outside of its platform.

The issue did not occur from a breach in the firm’s systems, a spokesperson for the company said in a statement.

“We’re actively working with those impacted to secure their accounts”, Robinhood added.

Robinhood, which is credited with helping popularize trading among millennials, has seen multiple outages since March due to higher-than-usual traffic to its app from a recent upsurge in day trade by retail investors.

Last month, Reuters reported that the firm had increased its latest funding round from investors to $660 million, giving it a valuation of $11.7 billion.

(Reporting by Abhishek Manikandan in Bengaluru; Editing by Anil D’Silva)

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Commonwealth Bank and St George held accounts for Options Rider investor scam, FinCEN files show

A friend recommended Carmelita Roque invest her savings in Options Rider.

Options Rider’s use of Australian banks gave the US Army officer comfort her money was safe.

“Seeing the money that I would be wiring would be going to a country like Australia, in my mind that was convincing enough that that company was legitimate,” Ms Roque said.

She deposited thousands of dollars into Options Rider’s Australian bank account and watched it grow to nearly $100,000 on its online platform.

Then the website stopped loading — it was a scam ripping off thousands of investors around the world to the tune of at least $8 million in one year.

“The heaviest part of it was when I kept beating myself up about how stupid I was getting into that ordeal,” she said.

A leak of highly secretive US Treasury documents reveals new details of the scam’s American and Canadian victims, who wired thousands of dollars to a company used by Options Rider with accounts at Australia’s Commonwealth Bank and St George Bank.

In mid-2015, a suspicious activity report (SAR) filed by the Bank of New York Mellon in the US raised concerns about Fund Options Australia, one of the companies that received money for Options Rider.

It said it was one of multiple SARs previously filed about the scheme.

SARS are documents banks use to raise concerns with regulators, and are not necessarily evidence of wrongdoing.

One of the concerns was based on information sent from the Commonwealth Bank (CBA) about Fund Options Australia, stating: “It did not know the nature of business that the entity was involved in and did not know what the purpose of its transactions were.”

The Australian Federal Police (AFP) began investigating Options Rider in mid-2015 and eventually restrained funds in 37 different bank accounts at various Australian banks and financial institutions.

“It’s a Ponzi scheme, it’s a scam. We saw no evidence of any actual trading being performed, any actual investing. It was simply: ‘Give us your money.’ They collected that from victims and sent it offshore,” said AFP agent Matt Oliveiro.

The ABC can reveal the alleged controller of the syndicate behind Options Rider in Australia — Kristijan Krstic — fled the country before the AFP investigation, but was arrested by Serbian police in July over further investment scams.

How the scheme used Australia’s banks to give an air of legitimacy

Options Rider claimed to be an online binary-options-trading scheme based in New Zealand and managed in Australia that used expert traders and specialised software to provide big returns.

The high-risk speculative investments try to predict whether the price of an asset, commodity or index will trade above or below a specific price at a specific time.

Binary options can be legitimate and legal, but many are also unlicensed, with authorities issuing multiple scam warnings over the last few years.

More than 2,500 victims of Options Rider sent funds to Australia from around the world, including from the United States, Philippines, Switzerland, Austria, Bulgaria, Canada, Romania and Russia.

It used US-based managers to promote the scheme internationally and an Australian-based syndicate to set up shell companies and bank accounts.

The scheme counted on mum-and-dad investors recommending it to others, selling them on the Australian financial system.

“The managed fund is in Australia. WHY? Because Australia is the 2nd best and safest banking system in the world … the U.S. is the 13th!” marketing material read.

“A variety of financial institutions … were used, however the big four banks were used most commonly as they are suspected to have presented a greater air of legitimacy to the syndicate’s operations,” Mr Oliveiro said.

American ‘felt comfortable’ depositing into Commonwealth Bank

Ms Roque was serving in the US Army in Pakistan when she got involved in Options Rider.

She said she sent two payments of $3,000 in late 2015, with at least one of those going to Bankwest, owned by the Commonwealth Bank.

“It’s exciting in the beginning when you see your money grow [on the Options Rider platform], especially at that rate … when I last saw my account it was almost close to $100,000. For me that was massive — if that was for real,” Ms Roque said.

Soon after, the website went down, no-one answered her emails and she never got her money back.

Fellow American Jeff Carley said he deposited $10,000 into Fund Options Australia’s account at the Commonwealth Bank — which was used by Options Rider — thinking it was an interesting new investment.

“When I saw I was sending my money to Australia, I looked into it and it was a big, highly reputable bank in Australia … so I felt comfortable it was going to a big bank,” he said.

He got his money back after fighting the scheme and complaining to US authorities, but he said many others did not.

“It was really sad, a lot of folks put their life savings into it,” he said.

‘Commonwealth Bank should have understood’

The Options Rider scam began around March 2015.

A SAR shows people were sending funds to Fund Options Australia’s account at the Commonwealth Bank since at least April 2015.

It said Fund Options was suspicious because it appeared shell-like, wires were sent in repetitive round-dollar amounts and the CBA said it did not know the purpose of its transactions or the nature of the company’s business.

The SAR shows transactions coming into the Commonwealth account in April and May, including one with a reference stating “live account at Options Rider” — linking the company with the scheme.

By mid-May, Federal Court documents show Fund Options had already received more than $3.7 million in more than 2,200 separate deposits into its CBA account and it did not carry an Australian Financial Services licence.

Anti-money laundering consultant John Chevis said the CBA should have discovered Fund Options and Options Rider were unlicensed in its due diligence to understand the nature of the business being carried out at the bank.

“Ideally to comply with the [anti money-laundering] rules, Commonwealth Bank should have understood that Fund Options was operating as some sort of financial services entity requiring a licence and then asked for that licence to ensure they’re not facilitating some sort of crime,” Mr Chevis said.

The liquidator was appointed in May and asked that debits be frozen, but deposits be allowed to continue.

It continued to receive more than $150,000 until early July.

Fund Options also received more than $500,000 between June and August 2015 into an account at the St George Bank.

A man showing his screen.
American Jeff Carley posted YouTube videos about how Options Rider was ripping off victims.(Supplied)

The AFP started investigating in late June that year after being provided information from the FBI.

Ms Roque agrees the banks should have frozen accounts when the funds started flowing in.

“If they have to stop, if they have to freeze first, then they should have done that. That would have alleviated more and more people getting scammed,” she said.

“I’m just hoping something can be done to protect the small people like me when it comes to investment scams like this.”

The Commonwealth Bank, St George Bank, the AFP and the regulator, AUSTRAC, were unable to say whether the banks filed suspicious matter reports about Fund Options in the lead-up to the police investigation, citing legal restrictions.

The CBA told ABC Investigations it was unable to comment on individual matters: “We work closely with law-enforcement bodies that are involved in regulating and enforcing laws relating to financial crime.”

It said it was committed to ensuring it took appropriate steps to identify, mitigate and manage money-laundering risks.

Westpac, which owns St George Bank, also said it could not comment on individual matters and interactions with law-enforcement and regulatory agencies.

“We are determined to continuously uplift our Financial Crime standards, comply with our obligations and uphold our customer, community, and regulatory expectations,” it said in a statement.

AUSTRAC also could not comment on specific matters but in a statement said banks “must take steps to identify a customer, checking they are who they say they are and reporting suspicious matters”.

It also requires the businesses to monitor customer transactions, perform ongoing customer due diligence and “conduct enhanced customer due diligence by collecting additional information or doing additional checks”.

Mr Chevis said if the Commonwealth Bank and other banks were filing suspicious matter reports to AUSTRAC, early steps to restrict funds should also be considered to prevent further harm to victims.

“Where they can’t refute those suspicions, then they should be making moves pretty quickly to prevent further transactions, either by rejecting them when they come in or restricting the account or closing the account,” he said.

“You would hope that the Commonwealth Bank’s systems were robust enough to detect that sort of offending early on and prevent further offending. 2,200 deposits and $3.7 million sounds like a fairly significant amount of offending … which might be indicative of Commonwealth Bank not having those robust systems and procedures in place.”

Alleged controller continued scamming after leaving Australia

Mr Oliveiro told the ABC “all the evidence” pointed towards Mr Krstic as the alleged controller of a “well-resourced, well-organised syndicate”.

“He fled the country before the AFP became aware of the investigation and he convinced associates of his to set up shell companies,” Mr Oliveiro said.

As the AFP identified and shut down bank accounts, the syndicate would get victims to send money to new accounts, leading to a cat and mouse chase with investigators.

Since fleeing Australia, Mr Krstic is suspected of continuing to run investment scams overseas until his arrest by the Serbian police in an FBI-led investigation in July.

It’s too little, too late for the thousands of Options Rider victims who never saw their money again, Ms Roque said.

“Five years … the timeline is too long for someone to be captured … how many more people were scammed in that time before the arrest?”

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Brits in EU face closure of UK bank accounts over lack of post-Brexit rules: report – POLITICO

A customer wearing a face mask or covering due to the COVID-19 pandemic, uses an ATM machine outside a branch of a Barclays bank | Tolga Akmen/AFP via Getty Images

Lloyds, Barclays and Coutts have started warning EU-based customers they will stop serving them at the end of the year.

A number of large British banks are set to stop serving U.K. citizens resident in the EU as the government has not yet negotiated post-Brexit rules, the Sunday Times reported today.

Lloyds, Barclays and Coutts have started warning EU-based customers they will stop serving them at the end of the year, according to the newspaper.

If pan-European banking rules no longer apply to the U.K. once the Brexit transition period ends on December 31, it would become illegal for U.K. banks to provide services for British customers in the EU without applying for new banking licences. So far, no new arrangement has been agreed.

Lloyds, one of the country’s largest banking groups, told the Sunday Times that 13,000 customers living in the Netherlands, Slovakia, Germany, Ireland, Italy and Portugal will see their current accounts terminated by the end of the year.

Barclays, meanwhile, said: “The timings for account closure will depend on the type of product that a customer holds, but we will always give notice to customers.”

The U.K. Treasury told the newspaper: “We expect banks to treat their customers fairly and provide timely communications to enable them to make appropriate decisions,” conceding that “the provision of banking services is a commercial decision for firms based on a variety of factors, including the local law and regulation of specific EEA countries.”

Are you a professional following the impact of Brexit on your industry? Brexit Transition Pro, our premium service for professionals, helps you navigate the policy, and regulatory changes to come. Email pro@politico.eu to request a trial.

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Hong Kong media executive says HSBC accounts frozen after arrest

HONG KONG: A top Hong Kong media executive said on Thursday (Aug 27) that HSBC had frozen his account after he and others from his newspaper were arrested under a new national security law Beijing imposed on the city.

Cheung Kim-hung, chief executive officer of Next Digital, told the group’s flagship newspaper Apple Daily that he could not withdraw or transfer money from his personal HSBC account, although his credit card was still working.

“The bank did not notify me,” Cheung said. “I found some functions were unusable only when I wanted to use them.”

His revelation came a day after US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo blasted the British bank for maintaining accounts of officials Washington has sanctioned for curtailing the freedoms of Hong Kong residents, while freezing the accounts of those seeking freedom.

“The United States is dismayed to learn the Chinese Communist Party continues to bully our British friends and their corporate leaders,” Pompeo wrote in his tweet, an apparent reference to the pressure Hong Kong-based banks have been put under by Beijing.

Pompeo was retweeted by Jimmy Lai, the owner of Apple Daily and a fierce critic of Beijing, who was arrested alongside Cheung.

READ: Hong Kong media mogul Jimmy Lai arrested under security law

Lai aide Mark Simon told the South China Morning Post that HSBC had frozen the media tycoon’s personal and credit card accounts, although Next Digital’s business accounts remained active.

Cheung said the freeze came after Aug 10, when around 200 police officers raided the newsroom of Apple Daily and arrested 10 executives.

Six of those arrested – including Lai and prominent activist Agnes Chow – were accused of “collusion with foreign forces”, a newly created national security offence.

International banks in Hong Kong are caught in the crossfire between the United States and China as the superpowers clash over the city’s future.

US President Donald Trump has signed a bipartisan bill sanctioning Chinese and Hong Kong officials responsible for the current crackdown on political freedoms in the city.

But China’s new security law also bans Hong Kong businesses from complying with foreign sanctions.

Banks such HSBC are taking flak from both sides.

Politicians in the US and Britain have castigated the British bank for supporting the national security law in Hong Kong.

China’s state media, meanwhile, have accused the bank of helping US prosecutors build a case against Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou for allegedly breaching Iran sanctions.

The bank published a rebuttal on its Chinese Weibo account, which was quickly censored.

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Thousands of CRA accounts breached following pair of cyberattacks

The Canada Revenue Agency has revealed it was recently hit by two cyberattacks resulting in breaches to the agency’s My Account, My Business Account and Represent a Client services.

The agency confirmed Saturday that as of Aug. 14, about 5,500 accounts had been affected by the separate attacks but that the breaches are now contained.

“The CRA quickly identified the impacted accounts and disabled access to these accounts to ensure the safety and security of the taxpayer’s information,” CRA spokesperson Christopher Doody wrote in an email.

“The CRA is continuing to analyze both incidents. Law enforcement assistance has been requested from RCMP and an investigation has been initiated.”

The admission came after repeated inquiries from CBC News after CBC noticed a pattern of similar hacks occurring over the past two weeks. 

Earlier this month, Canadians began reporting online that email addresses associated with their CRA accounts had been changed, their direct deposit information altered and that CERB payments had been issued in their name even though they had not applied for the benefit.

Most reported that they were first alerted to the suspicious activity after receiving legitimate emails from the CRA confirming that their email addresses had been discontinued.

Attacks based on reused usernames, passwords

The incidents are a type of attack known as “credential stuffing,” the Treasury Board’s Office of the Chief Information Officer said in a statement.

“These attacks, which used passwords and usernames collected from previous hacks of accounts worldwide, took advantage of the fact that many people reuse passwords and usernames across multiple accounts.”

Aside from CRA accounts, thousands of others linked to GCKey — a secure portal that allows Canadians to access government services online — were also affected.

“Of the roughly 12 million active GCKey accounts in Canada, the passwords and usernames of 9,041 users were acquired fraudulently and used to try and access government services, a third of which accessed such services and are being further examined for suspicious activity,” the statement read.

Canada’s cyber intelligence agency recommends that anyone affected by the breach update their passwords immediately and to choose something they will not use for any other account.

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Perth man allegedly stole from dead girlfriend’s bank accounts

  • A 28-year-old man was scheduled to appear in Perth Magistrate’s Court on Friday over allegations he stole his girlfriend’s bank savings days after she unexpectedly died last year.
  • The Australian Federal Police (AFP) say the man, from the Perth suburb of Woodbridge, accessed the 32-year-old girlfriend’s bank accounts through her mobile phone, transferred funds bet …
  • Police allege the man did not have permission to access the woman’s mobile phone or bank accounts after her death in July 2019.

PERTH, Western Australia – A 28-year-old man was scheduled to appear in Perth Magistrate’s Court on Friday over allegations he stole his girlfriend’s bank savings days after she unexpectedly died last year.

The Australian Federal Police (AFP) say the man, from the Perth suburb of Woodbridge, accessed the 32-year-old girlfriend’s bank accounts through her mobile phone, transferred funds between her accounts and then used her card on three occasions to withdraw a total of $2,400 from automatic teller machines.

Police allege the man did not have permission to access the woman’s mobile phone or bank accounts after her death in July 2019. The woman’s death was not suspicious.

The woman’s relatives became concerned about her financial affairs after the man had allegedly attempted to get a copy of her death certificate. It is alleged he was planning to finalise a claim for almost $400,000 in superannuation savings and life insurance benefits.

In early July 2020, the AFP began an investigation into a claim the woman’s superannuation account had been accessed after her death.

Investigators executed a search warrant at the man’s Woodbridge home last month and charged him over the alleged theft of the woman’s bank savings.

Zt this point he is charged on one count of using a telecommunication network with intention to commit a serious offence, for which the potential maximum penalty is seven years’ imprisonment.

An investigation into the allegations relating to the superannuation account is ongoing, with police continuing to examine seized electronic devices and other financial records.

AFP Federal Agent Stuart McDonald said it had been extremely difficult for the young woman’s family to focus on her financial affairs at a time when they were grieving her unexpected loss.

“The AFP will do what we can to protect the nest eggs of hard-working Australians by investigating, disrupting and prosecuting anyone who tries to defraud Commonwealth systems,” Federal Agent McDonald said Friday.

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