'Help me' scams on the rise

Information status

All announcements issued prior to 1 July 2017 were issued by the former Department of Commerce. Announcements listed here are the latest versions available, but may be subject to review. For more information on this announcement, please contact online@dmirs.wa.gov.au.

WA consumers have lost tens of thousands of dollars so far this year with a spike in reports of 'help me' scams.

These scams involve a consumer getting a phone call or email saying that a family member or close friend is in trouble and in urgent need of financial assistance. It can involve email accounts being hacked by the scammers and they also use personal information obtained on the internet.

So far this year Consumer Protection has received seven reports from victims of this type of scam with losses totalling more than $62,000.  This compares with only four reports in 2011 with losses of $2,300.

Recent examples include:

  • A woman sent $30,000 after getting a call from someone purporting to be from the Australian embassy in Belgrade, saying her mother had suffered a heart attack and needed money for urgent medical treatment and transport. The scammer spoke Serbian, the victim’s first language.
  • A Church in Bunbury sent $3,300 after getting a call from a Pastor who claimed to be held by customs in the Philippines while on his way to Bunbury for a funeral.
  • A woman sent $5,000 but contacted Consumer Protection before sending a further $25,000 to supposedly release her brother from jail in Germany.
  • An 83 year old Croatian woman living in Perth sent $3,000 after receiving a phone call from someone claiming to be from the Croatian embassy in Dubai and saying her sister needed assistance because she had lost her passport and tickets while in transit on her way to Australia for a surprise visit. The scammer spoke fluent Croatian.

Acting Commissioner for Consumer Protection Gary Newcombe said these scammers create a fictitious urgent and desperate situation to trap their victims.

“The scammers are hoping that those targeted will be so upset and alarmed they will act immediately and won’t stop to think or independently verify the story – but that is exactly what they need to do,” Mr Newcombe said.

“If you receive a phone call or email asking for assistance for a family member or friend, try to contact that person independently to make sure that the story is true before sending any money.

“There have also been cases where people’s email accounts have been hacked into and these help me messages sent to all their friends in their contact list. It just takes one to respond and send money by wire transfer and the scammer’s act of fraud and deception has been rewarded.”

Consumers who require more information or would like to report a scam can contact Consumer Protection on 1300 30 40 54 or email: scamquery@commerce.wa.gov.au . More information on scams can be obtained at: www.scamnet.wa.gov.au .

 

END OF RELEASE

 

(Consumer Protection is a division of the Department of Commerce)

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Media Contact:

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

 

Consumer Protection
Media release
24 May 2012

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