Manipulating her with fear, scammers were seconds away from getting a Bay of Plenty woman to send them $290,000 of her own money.
Sophie (not her real name) is a professional woman living in the Bay of Plenty. A couple of weeks ago she got a call from “Spark” asking whether she had experienced any issues with her home modem. By chance she had been having issues so she was happy to be called for assistance.
“Spark” requested access to her computer which she granted and was greeted with a very convincing looking Spark-branded service centre connection. The technicians said her computer had been infected with a virus and was being used to commit cyber-crime around the world.
“They showed me all these maps with money going around the world. They showed me all these connections and red alerts,” Sophie said.
“I thought ‘Oh my God this is terrible’. They were actually quite clever in the way they built up their story.”
After an hour and a half on the phone with the scammers, Sophie thought she could find herself implicated in international crimes or even involved in the distribution of pornography.
“They got me into a position where I felt quite vulnerable and exposed.”
The thieves pretended to black out their screen while Sophie performed a bank transaction, though they were actually watching and recording her access numbers.
The scammers transferred Sophie to the “New Zealand Police” and when she queried who she was talking to, they brought up a website that looked exactly like the New Zealand Police website, complete with contact details for the officer she was speaking to. The “officer” on the line said the only way to catch the people who had infected her computer was to send money to an account in Hong Kong as bait. They would transfer her some money for her to forward onwards.
The scammers then “deposited” $290,000 into Sophie’s account and told her to go to the bank, but not to talk to the tellers as they could be in on the scam. They stayed on the phone with her as she drove to the bank.
In the bank, Sophie tried to transfer the money but she stopped after being questioned by the teller.
“I said ‘I think this is all wrong’.” The teller agreed and assured her it was highly unusual and that there was no way the police would be using her in this way.
Upon further investigation, it was discovered that the $290,000 was Sophie’s own money – it had been transferred from her mortgage facility and retirement savings into her Everyday account.
The scammers phoned Sophie while she was in the branch and tried to get her to leave and go to another branch. When she handed the phone to the bank manager, the scammers hung up.
Sophie, relieved at the close call and relieved that Westpac had saved her from making the transfer, said the success of the scam had relied on her being wound up with fear.
“They really did psyche me up. I’m usually quite astute. In hindsight I think it’s ridiculous that I got sucked in but they were so seductive.”