An elderly widow has had to sell her home after being cheated out of nearly $500,000 worth of her life savings.
Margaret, 91, thought she was helping track down scammers working in banks when she was contacted by a man claiming to be from the Australian Federal Police.
For the next ten months, the fake policeman named Andrew William called Margaret almost every day with instructions on where to transfer money, including accounts in Australia and abroad.
The Queensland great-grandmother had no idea she was being cheated out of all her savings, despite being questioned by her bank about the large withdrawals.
As a warning to other Australians, Margaret is now heartbroken and boldly telling her story and the heavy toll she has taken on her life and family.
Margaret (pictured) was cheated out of all her life savings within ten months
“He was a smooth operator. I don’t know what else to say about him. The evil, anyway,” Margaret said A topical matter.
“I thought my days were numbered. It was not good. Since then I really haven’t been like this.
“It takes a little bit of persuasion to convince me of these things.” Looking back now, I think, ‘How could I have been so stupid.’
Her son Brett added: “I thought mum would have been the last person to be cheated on that way.”
Margaret says the scammer told her someone at her bank was trying to steal her money and persuaded her to wire the savings to another bank so AFP could keep a close eye on the hackers.
Margaret says she was told not to tell her friends or family as it would jeopardize the police operation.
“He said that people lost all their money to the hackers and that some banks are easier to deal with than others,” she said.
According to AFP, scams involving impersonating police officers are on the rise
The transactions raised alarm at the Bank of Queensland, where Margaret was a long-time customer.
“She[at the bank]was kind of trying to say, ‘Are you sure this isn’t a scam?'” Margaret recalled.
“But after I was threatened, I didn’t want to say, ‘I’ll take it because this might be a fraudulent bank.’
When Margaret tried to withdraw money from one of her new accounts and realized there was nothing there, it was too late.
“I felt very alone and really sick.” “I could barely walk, speak or do anything,” she said.
“I was completely beside myself.”
Her son added, “I spoke to her about it a lot to make sure she didn’t answer the phone and engage in conversations with anyone she didn’t know, but it happened.”
“I was quite angry that she decided not to talk to anyone about this money.”
“But then I realized that she’s the victim here.”
Margaret (pictured) is now forced to sell the house her son built after she was scammed
According to Chris Goldsmid, AFP’s Acting Deputy Commissioner for Cyber Command, scams involving impersonating the police are widespread and worryingly on the rise.
“The police and AFP will never call you and ask you to transfer money from your account or send it anywhere,” he said.
Commissioner Goldsmid stressed the importance of reporting early if you suspect you have been scammed, so that the banks and police can investigate and try to get the money back.
Unfortunately, it’s too late to get Margaret’s savings back.
She must now sell the house her son built for her and her late husband 28 years ago.
When asked if she had a message for the scammer who stole her money, Margaret replied, “If I could, I would put a bullet through him.”
“No, really, I don’t know what I would say to him.”
Police have issued a series of alerts in recent years about scammers using fake AFP credentials to target vulnerable Australians, including the elderly.
Acting Deputy Commissioner for Cyber Command at AFP Chris Goldsmid is now warning Australians to beware of scams involving impersonating police officers
In one recent scam, criminals used emails and letters to pretend to be AFP.
“If you receive an email or letter claiming to be AFP, we are not.” “That’s not how we would contact you,” AFP said in a Facebook post.
If you are contacted by someone you suspect is a scammer, end the call immediately and contact the AFP switchboard in your capital city.
They will confirm that it is a scam and you can then report the incident through the Scamwatch website.
Another sign to look out for is emails not coming from a legitimate AFP email address and ending in afp.gov.au. Also, the email does not reveal who it was sent to and calls for urgent action.