An Australian journalist has issued a dire warning to other Westpac customers after she… scammed of $35,000 by fraudsters impersonating the bank.
Jessica Ridley, a mother of one, had her business account purged after a fraud syndicate hijacked Westpac’s phone numbers.
Speaking to 9Honey, Ridley says the fraud was incredibly sophisticated and that the scammer kept her on the phone for hours trying to transfer her hard-earned money to another bank account.
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“I just finished Today Extra and was going through some emails when I received a text saying £23.97 had been debited from my bank account, use this ‘one time code’ to verify,” she explains.
“I knew immediately it was untrustworthy so I called Westpac and the line was busy. Two minutes later I got a text that I would be called by the fraud department.”
The “fraud department” was a man named Owen Clancy, who, of course, was not an actual employee of the big four bank.
“You think, ‘It will never happen to me,’ but it’s very clever how they did it.”
Ridley didn’t know it at the time, but the scammers had found a way to impersonate Westpac’s legitimate phone numbers.
“I immediately felt relieved and thought Westpac had figured it out. This man, Owen, identified himself and called the case number to reassure me too,” Ridley said.
“We went through everything and decided to close the card and re-issue a new one. It was a step-by-step process and it took over an hour.”
Later that day, during one of the calls, Ridley was in the hospital emergency room because her son Frank had broken his arm at daycare.
Her thoughts were elsewhere as she listened to the fraudster explain how he “helped” Ridley protect her MasterCard account from scammers.
But instead, $35,000 of Ridley’s money was withdrawn from her business account and transferred to another NAB account.
“He was on the phone empathetic to me and said he was sorry I was having such a hard time,” Ridley recalls.
“There was nothing in that process that made me think, ‘Hold on, something isn’t right’ until I noticed the account they were transferring to was a NAB account.”
When Ridley realized her account had been hacked, she contacted the real Westpac fraud department.
Astonishingly, it was the exact same number that the scammers had managed to impersonate.
When she received a legitimate automatic text message from the bank, it appeared in the same thread as the scam messages were sent.
It was all so complicated and confusing that Ridley says she fears older Westpac customers will be susceptible to the scam.
“You think, ‘It will never happen to me,’ but it’s very clever how they did it,” she says. “I can’t believe the magnitude of this sophistication.”
Ridley admits it “really hurts” to be the target of scammers and wants to make sure no other Australian falls victim to the fraud.
“I wonder, ‘What’s real and what isn’t?’ It really blurs the line of trust,” she adds.
After nearly a week, Ridley still hasn’t gotten her $35,000 back from Westpac. The team is still looking for her money and investigating how the scammers were able to use their phone numbers.
The investigative department told Ridley the incident would be dealt with within 21 days.
As for the missing money, the money was transferred from the NAB account to a foreign account, which the researchers suspect could be used for cryptocurrencies, Ridley said.
Westpac shared a statement to Ben Fordham on 2GBwhere Ridley also spoke about her ordeal, confirming that the company has seen a spike in scam activity.
“There has been an increase in reported scams and we encourage all Australians to be vigilant. Customers should be wary of any unexpected phone calls, texts or emails claiming to be from their bank or other reputable organisation” , the statement reads.
“When in doubt, ask for a reference number and call back on a publicly listed number to confirm the call was genuine.”
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