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Cybercrime expert reveals how to spot a fraud

Although we’re constantly told to be on the lookout for scams, sometimes they can be incredibly hard to pick.

Michelle Lowry thought she was investing in government and bank bonds when she lost $750,000 of her life savings.

Lowry was looking online for term deposits when she came across a website for EQR Securities.

Woman issues warning to other after losing $750,000 of her life savings in a cyberscam
Woman issues warning to other after losing $750,000 of her life savings in a cyberscam (A Current Affair)

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“I checked out that they were a registered company with ASIC and they had an Australian financial securities license number,” Lowry told A Current Affair.

“I gave the information to my accountant as well … for him to verify the legitimacy of the purchase of the bonds and the company.”

In December, Lowry went to her local bank and tele-transferred her money to an account provided.

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Lowry said she had communication with what she thought was the company buying bonds on her behalf and after believing she’d received funds, she logged into the online portal once to find her receipts but couldn’t get back in after that.

“I kept asking for Will Hughes – which was the name of the man at EQR Securities I was dealing with,” she said.

Another woman, Jody Bridges, who A Current Affair interviewed in May, lost $500,000 in a similar scam.

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Bridges claimed she was also duped by a man with a British accent named “Will Hughes”.

NSW Police Cybercrime Squad Commander Matt Craft reveals how to spot a scam after Aussies get 'duped'.
NSW Police Cybercrime Squad Commander Matt Craft says to closely examine the contact page, adding there are potential red flags to look out for when it comes to a ProtonMail email address (A Current Affair)

Lowry said after she tried to call Hughes, “all of a sudden, EQR Securities didn’t have a phone number”.

“He couldn’t be contacted and I went onto the internet to get onto their website and everything had been taken down,” she said.

Sarosh Kalapesi, 75, was looking to invest in bonds when he lost $100,000 after entering his details on a fake bond comparison website called Savings Connection.

“(He) called me and said he was from NAB and he was going to be the accounts manager,” Kalapesi said.

“I told him I could not invest more than $100,000 a day because there is a limit on my bank … so the first amount I transferred was $59.74 or something as a trial run.

“Then the next day I deposited $100,000 and that time CBA called me early in the morning at around eight o’clock and said that they hadn’t processed the amount because they think it’s a fraud account.”

Kalapesi authorized the second transaction, but then became suspicious and tried to meet the alleged scammer in person.

He said he knew he was “duped” when he wasn’t given an address to meet at.

Kalapesi then contacted police and both banks to try and stop the payment on the same day, but it still went through.

How to spot a scam

NSW Police Cybercrime Squad Commander Matt Craft has some tips on how to spot a fake.

“So with the URL, what we would see there are changes in letters where you would use a ‘K’ instead of a ‘C’, you would use hyphens; perhaps full stops,” Craft said.

“They can’t use the legitimate URL of that company so they have to get something that is close.”

His next tip is to closely examine the contact page, adding there are potential red flags to look out for when it comes to a ProtonMail email address.

“With that particular service, it’s often encrypted and it’s an anonymous way to communicate,” Craft said.

“A legitimate business just won’t be using that.”

Craft said people should also look out for 1800 numbers.

“While they have a legitimate use, they are (also) associated with fraud,” he explained.

He advised against sending money to somebody you don’t know and can’t identify – particularly if there is no address on the contact page.

Chris Satchi from the Australian Bond Exchange said if you’re investing in government bonds, don’t be fooled by a good offer.

“The reality is they pay about half to one per cent per annum. Most of the scams are offering you five, five-and-a-half,” Satchi said.

“So straight away, if it’s anything more than one (per cent), it’s a red flag.”

Statement by a CBA spokesperson

“We are always very concerned when we are made aware of frauds and scams affecting customers and the wider community. Despite the commitment and best efforts of regulators, law enforcement agencies and the banking industry, such frauds and scams sadly still occur. We review frauds and scams on a case-by-case basis however it is widely recognized that scams are becoming increasingly sophisticated which has prompted increased investment across the sector in resources, systems, data and intelligence to combat scams and alert the Australian public to the risks the community faces.

“Customers need to remain vigilant, protect their banking details and be smart about who they send money to.

“Once we have been made aware of suspicious activity on an account we work closely with other banks and law enforcement to take action and we do our best to recover any funds.

“If you think you have been scammed or if you notice a transaction you didn’t make, contact your bank immediately. The best chance of recovering funds is when action is taken as soon as possible.”

Statement by Chris Sheehan, Executive, Group Investigations, NAB Fraud

We’ve seen a significant increase in scams in recent years and unfortunately these have devastating effects for impacted victims. Investment scams in particular continue to feature in the top four types of scams that our customers report alongside romance scams, business email compromise and remote access scams.

As soon as we were notified that CBA’s customer was the victim of a scam, we immediately blocked the account and conducted further investigation. We will always make every attempt to prevent these scams and recover funds where possible. However, once the funds have left a victim’s account, it can often be difficult to recover them due to the sophistication of these criminals and the speed with which these payments occur.

That’s why it’s so important for people to remain vigilant and alert on what to look out for to keep themselves safe from scams. Never be pressured to pay immediately for something during an unsolicited call or conversation, and be sure to confirm the identity of the person you are sending money to before completing a transaction. It’s best to treat these transfers like handing cash to someone you don’t know, so please think twice before making the payment.

NAB invests heavily in the latest cyber security and fraud detection capabilities with a dedicated team that monitors customers’ accounts 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for suspicious activity. If you think you have been victim to a scam or notice any fraudulent activity, take action and contact your bank immediately.

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