Australian woman’s warning to others after losing $750,000 of her life savings

Although we are constantly told to be on the lookout for scams, sometimes they can be incredibly difficult to spot.

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

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

Woman warns others after losing $750,000 of savings to cyber scam
Woman warns others after losing $750,000 of savings to cyber scam (A Current Affair)

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“I verified that it was an ASIC registered company and that they had an Australian financial securities license number,” Lowry said. A topical matter.

“I also gave the information to my accountant…to verify the legitimacy of the purchase of the bonds and the company.”

In December, Lowry went to her local bank and wired her money into an account provided.

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Lowry said she contacted what she believed to be the company buying bonds on her behalf and after believing she had received funds, she once logged into the online portal to find her received, but could not return after that.

“I kept asking Will Hughes – who was the name of the man from EQR Securities that I was dealing with,” she said.

Another woman, Jody Bridges, who A topical matter 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 Australians have been 'tricked'.
NSW Police Cybercrime Squad Commander Matt Craft says to look closely at the contact page, adding that there are potential red flags to watch out for when it comes to an email address. ProtonMail (A Current Affair)

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

“He couldn’t be contacted and I went online to their website and everything was taken down,” she said.

Sarosh Kalapesi, 75, was looking to invest in bonds when he lost $100,000 after entering his details on a bogus 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 couldn’t invest more than $100,000 a day because there was a limit on my bank…so the first amount I transferred was $59.74 or something as a test.

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

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

He said he knew he had been “tricked” when he was not given an address to meet.

Kalapesi then contacted the police and the two banks to try to stop the payment on the same day, but it was accepted anyway.

How to spot a scam

NSW Police Cybercrime Squad Commander Matt Craft has some tips for spotting a fake.

“So with the URL, what we would see there are changes to the letters where you would use a ‘K’ instead of a ‘C’, you would use hyphens; maybe dots complete,” Craft said.

“They can’t use that company’s legitimate URL, so they have to get something close.”

His next tip is to take a close look at the contact page, adding that there are potential red flags to watch out for when it comes to a ProtonMail email address.

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

“A legitimate business just won’t use this.”

Craft said people should also look for 1800 numbers.

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

He advised against sending money to someone you don’t know and can’t identify – especially if there isn’t an address on the contact page.

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

“The reality is that they pay about half to one percent a year. Most scams give you five, five and a half,” Satchi said.

“So straight away, if there’s more than one (percent), it’s a red flag.”

Statement from a CBA spokesperson

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

“Customers need to stay vigilant, protect their bank details and know who they are sending money to.

“Once we have been notified of suspicious account activity, we work closely with other banks and law enforcement to take action and do our best to recover all funds.

“If you think you’ve been scammed or notice a transaction you didn’t complete, contact your bank immediately. The best chance of recovering the funds is to act as soon as possible.”

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

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

As soon as we were informed that the CBA client was the victim of a scam, we immediately blocked the account and carried out further investigation. We will always do our best 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 are made.

That’s why it’s so important for people to stay vigilant and alert about what to watch out for to protect themselves from scams. Never be pressured into paying for something immediately during an unsolicited call or conversation, and be sure to confirm the identity of the person you’re sending money to before completing a transaction. It’s best to treat these transfers as if you were handing over money to someone you don’t know, so think twice before making the payment.

NAB invests heavily in the latest cybersecurity and fraud detection capabilities with a dedicated team monitoring customer accounts 24/7 for suspicious activity. If you think you’ve been scammed or see fraudulent activity, take action and contact your bank immediately.

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