Pensioner loses $15,000 in telco phone scam

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An 80-year-old from WA’s South West has lost more than $15,000 in a phone scam where the caller pretended to be from Centrelink and claimed the man’s pension payments would be stopped unless he paid money supposedly owed to a telecommunications company.

Fred, who doesn’t want to use his surname, was contacted about eight weeks ago and advised that he owed thousands of dollars to Sure Telecom and that he had to pay by Western Union to clear the debt.

Having received a call a couple of years earlier about switching his landline to a new telco company, Fred became convinced he owed money. This combined with the fear of his Centrelink payments being stopped led to him transferring $2,000 to the scammers. The money went to Bangkok.

Persistent calls from a man claiming to be ‘Sean Lee’ from Centrelink in Melbourne led to Fred sending six more payments, with the total amount lost now standing at $15,586.32.

Acting Director of Retail and Services for Consumer Protection Lanie Chopping says it’s 100% a scam.

“One of our Consumer Fraud Liaison Officers has confirmed that the man making these phone calls to Fred does not work for Centrelink and that the phone number used is being re-routed overseas despite starting with 03 to make it appear to be Melbourne-based.

“Centrelink does not recover monies owed to telecommunications companies. Centrelink does not accept payments by wire transfer e.g. Western Union or MoneyGram.

“If you receive a call from Centrelink and have concerns, get the person’s contact details and phone Centrelink using one of their advertised phone numbers to confirm whether it was truly them calling. These numbers can be found on the ‘Contact Us’, 'Phone' section of their website.”

Ms Chopping added that it is common for phone scammers to make threats to create a sense of urgency so the recipient of the call doesn’t have the time to check the authenticity of the demand.

“Other examples include threats of arrest or Court action for unpaid fines or bills or the threat of power supply being cut off,” she said.

“Vulnerable Western Australians including those who are seniors or speak English as a second language are often the targets.

“Always talk to someone you trust like a friend, relative or neighbour and don’t act hastily because it will be almost impossible to recover the money once it is sent, which is the sad reality for Fred.”

Scam warnings and prevention tips are available at www.scamnet.wa.gov.au. Enquiries can be made by contacting WA ScamNet by email wascamnet@commerce.wa.gov.au or by calling 1300 30 40 54.

Centrelink have a warning about this type of phone scam on their website: www.humanservices.gov.au/customer/information/scams#phonenumberscam

Currently it’s National Consumer Fraud Week 2015 – an initiative of the Australasian Consumer Fraud Taskforce, which Consumer Protection is a member of. The theme this year is ‘Get smarter with your data’ and a useful video can be viewed on the ACCC’s SCAMwatch website: www.scamwatch.gov.au

Media contact: Consumer Protection

Consumer Protection
Media release
21 May 2015

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