Anita and Nandos had just purchased the perfect investment property in Macquarie Park last year. They were in the final stages of settlement and just needed to transfer about $1 million to finalise the sale.
A day before they transferred the funds, the couple allegedly received what appeared to be a legitimate email from their lawyer asking them to pay the funds into a different account. Little did the couple know, scammers were allegedly impersonating their lawyer. This type of scam is known as a business email compromise (BEC) scam.
The unsuspecting couple allegedly transferred the money to the new account. However, when the money never arrived in their lawyer’s account, alarm bells started to ring.
The couple, who live on the north shore, informed the police and their bank.
“It has been emotional,” Anita said. “We still feel vulnerable and helpless, we don’t know if we can get the money back.”
Nandos said the couple has had to find extra work to try to make up some lost funds.
“For so many weeks, Anita and I couldn’t sleep. There’s an angry feeling someone has robbed us. It is big money and it has not been easy for us,” he said.
Almost a year on, the couple said they are still struggling but are doing their best to move on.
“We lost a lot of money, the helplessness and emotional side is still there, but we try to be positive and move on and hope for the best,” Nandos said.
Only a portion of the funds has been recovered.
Detectives from State Crime Command’s Cybercrime Squad began investigating the matter in November last year. Police on Monday released images of two men they hope might be able to assist with their investigation.
“Detectives investigating this incident believe the two men depicted in these images may be able to assist police with their ongoing inquiries,” Cybercrime Squad’s Detective Inspector Ian Wright said.
“The settlement of property, particularly in Sydney, generally involves large amounts of money and the funds taken in this instance are significant.”
“We know these scams often target private businesses and government agencies; but a growing number are individuals and families scammed out of their hard-earned cash, as we’ve seen here.
He added BEC scams were an increasing and persistent threat and urged people to remain vigilant.
Data from Scamwatch found that in 2020, there were 1300 reports of BEC scams with $14 million in losses, compared to 900 reports and $5 million in losses reported in 2019.
Queensland University of Technology’s School of Justice associate professor Cassandra Cross said the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the online landscape, allowing scammers greater access to unsuspecting victims.
“I think it’s increased the vulnerability of individuals and organisations, especially with the level of restrictions that currently exist and the popularity of working from home,” she said. “You can’t necessarily go into the office to double-check something. [Scammers] certainly take advantage of that.”
“It’s very easy to blame the individual … but we are all vulnerable to fraud.”
“If we do have suspicions over things we’ve received, we need to feel confident to reach out to someone and get their opinion instead of shrugging it off and sending the money regardless.”
Analyst of identity and cyber support service IDCARE Kathy Sundstrom said generally, scammers are evolving in their tactics.
“Scammers can now gain remote access to your computer by saying they’re going to check your internet security,” she said. “Unfortunately, once they have remote access, they have access to all your accounts … and you might not even be aware that it’s happening.”
Her advice was to be suspicious, pick up the phone and call the company or person to check the communication was legitimate.
Anyone with information that may assist Strike Force Urban investigators is urged to contact Crime Stoppers: 1800 333 000
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