Scammers stole $20k from my bank account

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I have repeatedly questioned whether I should share my story. Most of those around me have advised against it and, until a few weeks ago, I felt too ashamed and vulnerable to do so.

Then, my story started to become more common: a local business, a friend, my sister.

I have no doubt thousands of other hard-working Australians have been affected as well. It was no longer six degrees of separation, rather six degrees of scams.

scammers stole $20,000 from my westpac bank account

It was in May that I became the victim of "spoofing".

Don't worry if you haven't heard about it before; few have. Spoofing is a sophisticated scam that utilises the bank's actual phone numbers via both phone calls and text messages to represent them, in my case Westpac.

The person who committed this crime had all my details and knew my recent transactions well enough to make me convinced it was the banking institution I'd entrusted since I was 14.

They called from Westpac's fraud number, they sent messages from Westpac's text service, they did the same security checks I was familiar with, and they even had that tedious Westpac hold music.

Over more than an hour, the scammer disguised as a well-spoken, highly professional bank employee, carefully explained that my accounts were at risk and my phone and email were compromised.

He told me that my funds needed to be transferred to a safe-holding account while investigations could be conducted. He also recommended that I wipe my phone to get rid of any malware.

The real Westpac reports that at this point, they tried to warn me of suspicious activity via a call, message and email. I didn't receive any of these communications. I now know they had all been infiltrated by the scammer.

When I called Westpac 24 hours later to find out where my case was up to, I was told that I had been scammed. $20,000 gone. I collapsed on the floor, my head spinning with all the details, convinced the real Westpac must be wrong.

I then proceeded to be passed through a series of operators, given no advice as to what I should do, discouraged by the bank from reporting the incident to police, and at one point I was even told to expect a positive outcome, 'to have a gin and enjoy my weekend', only to then be told otherwise.

In Westpac's 21-day investigation of my case they didn't contact me once. Had they bothered to do so, they may have been able to prevent others like my friend or sister from being scammed a month later in the same way.

The trauma I experienced has only been exacerbated by subsequent dealings with my bank. While in my case it was Westpac, I know for others it has been Commonwealth, NAB, ANZ and BankWest.

I have no doubt that, more often than not, grinding customers down so that they just walk away is a successful tactic. The physical, financial and emotional toll of working with the bank to try and recoup my funds is something I don't wish on anyone. My case now sits with the Australian Financial Complaints Authority (AFCA).

Of all the institutions in Australia, the ones that should be supporting customer security more than any others are our banks, yet many still haven't advertised this scam.

While I would welcome updates to all bank websites, I am also aware this is insufficient and falls well short of what is needed to protect Australians. We need all banking institutions to work together with governments to build a campaign that makes young and old aware of just how easily trusted numbers can be adopted by a scammer.

We need the processes for reporting these scams improved, with operators properly trained in empathy and a step-by-step guide for what needs to occur next.

I am an educated woman, as is my friend and sister. We have all built careers on our ability to demonstrate sound judgement and think strategically. I make this point because when you tell someone you have been scammed, the responses vary from shock and sympathy to the "surely you didn't fall for those idiots".

I get it - I have hung up on all those odd calls before too. This is not one. This is elite scamming, and it can happen to anyone.

If you have been impacted, please share your story, even if it is just with your loved ones. Right now, while our banks sit idle, it is our voices together that can protect others. Let's keep the conversation alive and the spoofing at bay. Let's turn our six degrees to our advantage and by doing so keep people's hard-working dollars safe because if the bank won't, who will?

*Not her real name

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Comments
Nellie Dyson
July 30, 2022 11.13am

I've gotten to the stage where i don't answer my phone anymore unless its from someone that's on my contact list or it's a number I recognize. If they don't leave a message I block that number. I also think that when someone suggests you transfer money into another account that should immediately raise a red flag and you should hang up and not listen to anything they tell you no matter how convincing they are, and contact your bank directly. If they're still trying to convince you to transfer money, just tell them you can transfer the money into your other account with another bank to keep it safe, (just don't tell them which bank ) and hang up. I also don't do surveys from the bank i usually delete those, even though they genuinely look from my bank.

Nathan Thomas
July 30, 2022 11.45am

I worry for my father as he gets older that he will be scammed.

The article does say how the person was scammed though. Did the person transfer funds from a Westpac bank account to a non Westpac bank account into a fraudsters account?

And did the persons sister get scammed in the following month?

A Butli
July 30, 2022 3.15pm

This past week or so I have had a scam operation trying very hard to get me. I made the mistake of leaving my mobile number and an email address on a web site that promised some interesting investment information. Within 30 seconds I had a phone call, during which I did some fast googling and realised the operation was a scam. I said I was no longer interested and hung up.

Ever since that I have been receiving multiple phone calls every day, sometimes 5 or 6 an hour. It was quickly obvious that the caller ID was spoofed. The calls appeared to originate from every state in Australia and from several other countries. None of these very professional sounding and obstinate callers wanted to accept that I didn't want to do business with them. Blocking their numbers achieved nothing because they kept changing them.

I set my phone to only accept calls from my contacts, but this screened out other wanted calls, so I used that restriction just after hours. Googling told me that this scam is almost impossible to stop. It seems to be run from countries where labour is very cheap, so they can just keep going ad infinitum. They never run out of phone numbers to use for spoofing.

Early on I tried to call one of them but had no answer. Later I had a genuine call from that number asking me why I had called. Yes, it was definitely genuine - a knockabout Aussie from interstate who was grateful for my explanation of spoofing.

If their calls are directed to voicemail, they never leave a message, but their call is revealed in the "Recents" information on iPhone. Quickly hanging up on their call doesn't seem to deter them.

I have found one method of reducing these nuisance calls: I answer but immediately hit the button to mute my microphone. The offender at the other end can hear nothing, not even any ambient noise. He spends a few minutes talking to himself before realising his time is being totally wasted.

Unfortunately, some victims of this scam are reported to have parted with their credit card number and been atrociously ripped off. Others have escaped that fate but have finished up changing their phone number and even smashing their phone.

Because the scam uses internet calling via SIP protocol, there is currently no way to be sure even which country is the call origin. The technique was first allowed to assist companies where, for example, calls were made from multiple points but calls in response were preferred to be received at central number. Thus all the outward calls had a caller ID of the central number.

A proper fix to prevent this scam would appear to be unlikely in the short term, would require cooperation between countries and major telcos and possibly will not be cheap. In the meantime, be very careful.

Heather Liney
July 30, 2022 5.48pm

This happened to my sister from CommBank, they were not successful as she doesn't have internet access, and the local branch stopped it when she went in. The pretext was that someone in the branch was committing fraud and they were trying to catch them. I don't have a local branch, so I guess saving an actual employees number would be a good idea, to verify they have called you.

David Hann
July 30, 2022 6.07pm

Somehow in this story it seems not all details have been included around how the transfer occurred. Did this lady give passwords? This is a great warning to people as the scammers are becoming very sophisticated however it's not Westpac at fault here. Don't trust anyone by phone/email and don't give any details.

D Lin
July 31, 2022 1.20pm

I tend to agree. I'm guessing the author either provided their password or did the transfer themselves to other accounts for 'safe holding'.

Also don't provide information to cold callers. If any organisation has contacted me they should already have all my information, I'm not providing my personal details. These become details the scammers might provide to the real organisation to try to claim they are me.

It is unfortunate that this is the world we're in and while I feel sorry for the author for having lost money, this doesn't appear to be the fault of the bank sitting idle anymore that it is the fault of the ATO or Telstra or Amazon who also have people impersonate them. Both Westpac and CBA have warnings about scams on the main page of their internet sites.

David Chang
July 30, 2022 6.48pm

The only way to be sure is jot down the information and call the institution or department yourself with the numbers you find on their official website. Never take calls or sms messages for what they are.

John De Ravin
July 30, 2022 8.53pm

Thank you Hannah for speaking out. I think it is important for everyone to know how sophisticated these scams are becoming. I commend you wholeheartedly.

Your article did attract four excellent suggestions from Nellie Dyson but we shouldn't be hard on you Hannah, I reckon I might have found the scammers' pitch very plausible if the call appeared to come from Westpac and you could hear their "hold" music in the background! Of course it's easier to think of what you could have done in retrospect.

Thank you both, Hannah and Nellie, for your contributions.

david green
July 30, 2022 11.21pm

I change my mobile phone number once a year, and destroy my credit card and get a new one with a new number once a year. Is it a giant pain in the butt having to notify everyone of my new number? Yes, plus all the apps it's connected to? Yes again. But it stops all the stupid scam calls. And I never do ANY financial transactions on my phone. It's old school, but the internet has become a cesspit in the last decade. It's not to be trusted.

jignesh patel
July 31, 2022 2.08am

It happended with me last month and I lost $22000 they told as you written in this comment I felt same as you are I reported cyber crime as well as my bank and ACCC. I didn't get any positive response but my bank still is investigating.

Shania Twains
July 31, 2022 10.35am

Thanks for sharing your story.

Shame on you Westpac for telling her to "have a gin and chill etc",

I still would have gone to the police....

Paul Tumminello
July 31, 2022 10.43am

I have a couple of comments concerning this story;

-why is this a bank issue? Irrespective of how convincing they are you still performed the transaction

-however after saying that if the transfer was to a Westpac account, which I suspect that it was. The issue that I would take up with the Bank is, how could a scammer open a Westpac account? All financial institutions are expected to have robust KYC policies, so how did they open an account? I too have been scammed, the situation was a little different but I ended up transferring AUD 850 to a NAB account. For a scam that was perpetrated o/seas how was this so? It is this issue that I think the regulators should be cracking down on.

Needless to say representation/queries to the NAB drew a blank. I just put the experience down to my own stupidity but I do believe that the bank should be held accountable to some extent.

Niall Burke
August 2, 2022 12.17pm

This same exact thing has happened to my partner with CBA and they also hacked into their Netbank SMS system.

Meg Owens
August 10, 2022 8.27pm

Thanks Hannah for your detailed account. I wonder how the scammer knew your transactions?

James B
August 11, 2022 8.45am

I wonder if they got in to her emails. Anyone who shops or pays bills online would have a decent paper trail of recent transactions just in their inbox.

jim moore
August 13, 2022 4.28pm

Best thing you can do when receiving a call from the bank is hang up and go to your nearest bank branch in person. If that's not possible the next best thing is to look on the back of your bank card and call that phone number, perhaps from someone else's phone if possible just in case yours is compromised. Don't ever give any personal details to anyone that calls you, only give when you call the bank. While scammers are getting better that advice mitigates 99% of scams including those in the article.