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Security

How I almost lost $20,000 to a scam

1 Oct 2019

Most of us believe we could never fall victim to a scam, and that we would know within seconds of answering a call or opening an email someone was trying to involve us in a bogus scheme. But what if someone was calling or emailing from what seemed to be a legitimate trusted service like Telstra, the Australian Taxation Office or other Government Agencies?

And what if they had information about you, plus all the bells and whistles like branding, professionalism and so-called proof? It might make it much harder to identify.

That’s exactly how it all started for long standing member, John.

John was an academic and felt the same as many of us do – that scams really only happen to elderly people who don’t understand the Internet.

“I would have previously said that, you know, I'm far too smart to be taken in by a scam.”

But it was a phone call from a person claiming to work for Telstra that changed everything.

“When I picked up my phone, the so-called Telstra employee immediately told me that there had been a malfunction in a system nearby and they were ringing to check whether my computer was working.”

After John checked his computer and confirmed it was working, the caller asked him to hold the line while he transferred him to the Australian Security and Investment Commission (ASIC)

“At this point a gentleman named Mark came onto the phone and informed me he was from ASIC. He said that he needed my assistance in catching an employee who was acting unethically and with criminal intent from within the financial institution I did my banking with (which happened to be Credit Union SA).”

Looking back on this phone call John remembers feeling thoroughly taken in by the apparent legitimacy of it all.

“I have no idea why I was so unbelievably naive on that day. I just cannot understand for the life of me why I believed them, but there was a very smooth operation at the other end and they really got me hook, line and sinker.”

By the end of the conversation John had given the scammers access to his computer and handed over his internet banking details. 

“They told me they were going to conduct a fake transfer from my bank account which would lure the supposed Credit Union SA criminal into the open. And that if it was successful, they would pay me $500 for my troubles.”

This is where it becomes a little tricky to explain, but basically, the scammers created a false front screen while they secretly looked around John’s accounts and processed a transaction in the background. 

In John’s specific case they moved money internally between his accounts but convinced him they’d sent the funds from an external account. All John could see was an extra $20,000 sitting in his Access Account, having no idea that it was actually his own money,  transferred from his Netsave Account.

“It looked absolutely legitimate. So it seemed to me that somehow, for some bizarre reason, I had been chosen for this task and I just didn't stop to think how ridiculous that would be.” 

It was around this time that John’s wife became suspicious and asked him to ignore future calls from ‘Mark’.

“My wife even said at one stage, ‘you know, I think you should just hang up the phone’, but I felt like I was too involved, you know, too far in to hang up. I thought I was doing the right thing - helping catch a criminal.” 

So once John had seen $20,000 sitting in his account, the scammers asked him to visit Credit Union SA and transfer the funds to an overseas account.  

They had even coached him on what to say and how to behave in front of staff members at the branch.

“He said ‘look you must just be normal. Don't look nervous, just be relaxed and be yourself’.”

John put the transfer request in, but our staff are constantly on the lookout for red flags and straight away our fraud team got suspicious. It wasn’t long before John received a call from our Fraud and Disputes Manager, Dominic. 

“Dominic asked me if I had attempted to send funds overseas and I said ‘yes’. He then went on to ask what it was for and I told him it was a business transaction. I could hear from the tone of his voice that he was concerned in some way or another. I wasn't sure why he was concerned, in fact, I even thought to myself ‘well maybe he could be the criminal working within Credit Union SA’.”

Dominic asked John if he was aware that he was transferring his own funds overseas, and John’s first instinct was to go along with it, but deep down he began to worry.

The questioning continued from Dominic ‘have you received a call from someone asking for access to your computer? Have you been told you’re helping to catch a hacker?’

It was at this point the glass shattered for John.

“The penny well and truly dropped, and I couldn’t believe I had been scammed; I felt like a complete idiot! But I also felt an extreme sense of relief at the realisation that the transaction had been blocked by Dominic and his team. 

But like many scammers, even after John cut contact with them – they continued calling.

“I got endless calls where the scammers were clearly trying to coordinate different attacks from different angles. I guess it’s really no surprise as they had learnt so much about me and knew all of my personal details.” 

How is John now?

He continues to be super vigilant and tells everyone he can about his experience to help raise awareness and emphasise the message that scams can happen to anyone - no matter your age, education level or background. Everyone is a potential victim!


Think you’ve been scammed?

  • Contact us immediately on (08) 8202 7777
  • Report it to ASIC and the police via cyber.gov.au
  • Stop any transactions to the scam source! Be wary of secondary scams or offers to recover your money.

Find out more tips on how to protect yourself from scams on the ASIC Money Smart website. Read more of our Scam Awareness articles.

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