Bunbury pensioner scammed of life savings

A Bunbury pensioner has lost her life savings of $57,000 after becoming the victim of an overseas scam.

The 80 year old woman received a call from the scammers, claiming that she was the recipient of a grant of $7,000 from the Australian Tax Office, but she needed to send them $200 by wire transfer to access the grant.

After the woman sent the initial amount, further requests for money came and the amount of the grant increased until the woman had sent by wire transfer a total of $57,000 in numerous payments to India over a five week period. She took out a bank loan for $15,000 when her life savings had been withdrawn.

The woman was given a phone number in Melbourne and Sydney to call to find out when her cheque would be arriving to give the scam an impression of authenticity. The fraudsters urged the pensioner not to tell her family as “it would be a nice surprise for them when she eventually got her cheque”.

Acting Commissioner for Consumer Protection Gary Newcombe said this is a particularly sad case where a pensioner’s innocent trust has been betrayed.

“These heartless cyber criminals look for easy targets and often prey on vulnerable members of our community,” Mr Newcombe said.

In the past year, Consumer Protection has received more than a thousand reports from WA consumers who have received calls from scammers claiming to be from banks, the Australian Tax Office, other government departments, organisations and various lotteries around the world.

They are told that there is a large amount of money waiting for them because they have been overcharged with their bank fees, have tax refunds waiting to be collected, have won a prize from a lottery they haven’t entered, are recipients of an inheritance or are entitled to some form of funding.

“The catch is that they ask for a smaller amount of money in fees which needs to be sent first before the larger amount can be released. This should be a warning to those who have been contacted that this is a scam, which we refer to as an advanced fee fraud,” Mr Newcombe said.

“No bank, organisation or government department will ask for money to be sent up front, particularly by wire transfer, before sending you funds that you are legitimately entitled to. Sending money by wire transfer to people you don’t know is very hazardous as, once it is collected, it can’t be recovered or traced.

“The cyber criminals use fake websites, bogus emails and send professional-looking documents to make these scams look authentic. They also try to collect personal information in order to access your bank accounts. Consumers need to guard their personal information closely, change passwords regularly and prevent becoming victims of identity fraud and scams.”

Consumers who believe they may be the target of a scam, should contact WA ScamNet at Consumer Protection on 1300 30 40 54 or consumer@commerce.wa.gov.au before sending any money.

More information on scams can be sourced at www.commerce.wa.gov.au/wascamnet

Media Contact: Alan Hynd 9282 0961 or 0429-078791   alan.hynd@commerce.wa.gov.au

Consumer Protection
Media release
07 Jun 2011

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