Scammers stole $20k from my bank account

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.

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 uses 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 did not 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 recover 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 happen next.

I am an educated woman, as is my friend and sister. We have all built careers on our ability to demonstrate sound judgment 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 scammingand 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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