Barry Casey was swindled out of $40,000, half of his retirement savings, in May 2022 by scammers impersonating Amazon Prime.
The 69-year-old Sydney man, who has “three forms of cancer” and was keeping the money to treat potential future flare-ups, said the looming health costs and his decimated bank balance “is like this cloud over my head all the time”.
Casey also said he had “blind faith” that his bank of 64 years would protect him against fraudulent transactions, but when he contacted them the day after his account was drained, he was told it was his own fault.
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He was in the Philippines when he received a message thanking him for signing up for an Amazon Prime account, and notifying him that $99.99 would be debited from his bank account in two weeks time. He received those messages daily, counting down.
But Casey fell ill, and returned home with “wracking coughs” that made it impossible to get more than 20 minutes sleep at a time.
It was then, sleep-deprived and foggy with fever, that he called the number provided by scammers who claimed it was for the Amazon fraud team, with whom Casey could cancel his account.
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“It’s coming out of your Commonwealth Bank account,” the scammer told Casey, before he quoted his bank account number.
“There were alarm bells there, but I was very ill, I wasn’t quite thinking straight.”
Pretending to be from Amazon’s fraud team, the scammer worked with Casey under the pretence of trying to “catch” the person who was using his bank details, requesting personal details from him to do so.
“(The scammer) said: ‘Look this is happening quite a bit, and here at Amazon, we need to protect our brand.”
The language the scammers used was particularly convincing. When 7NEWS.com.au contacted the real Amazon regarding the scam, a spokesperson said: “Scammers that attempt to impersonate Amazon put our customers and our brand at risk.“
Casey tried to back out several times, but said: “The scare tactics worked.”
Each time he was convinced to continue, told they had identified the scammer who was in Sacramento, California, and telling Casey: “If we don’t lock him down, he’ll just keep taking money out of your account.”
“All the while, in the back of my mind, I’m trusting the bank. Thinking they won’t allow this to happen. If this is a scam, the bank will recognise it. I had blind faith in the bank — unfounded, as it turned out.”
The Amazon impersonators began hand-balling Casey between various phone operators, until he said: “It was just a blur of screens, information given and information received.”
He didn’t realise it, but Casey had given them access to his devices and accounts.
They told him not to open his bank account until their investigation was complete, and when a NetBank verification code prompt appeared on his phone, and the scammers asked him to fill it in, he did exactly that.
Barry Casey was fleeced out of $40,000 by scammers impersonating Amazon, and Commonwealth Bank were unable to recover the funds. Credit: AAP/Supplied
It was the moment that their manipulation tactics got past Commonwealth Bank’s final failsafe. One that Casey still kicks himself over.
He fell asleep, and shortly after, woke in a panic.
“I was lying there in bed, asleep in the early hours of the morning, and I just had this moment of lucidity. You know when you’ve got a fever and you kind of go in and out of consciousness?” Casey said.
“I just had this moment where the fog cleared, and I thought, ‘no, this is not right’.”
He checked his bank account, and discovered that three transactions had left his account; one for $4000 and one for $16,000 just before midnight, and one for $20,000 just after midnight.
What is a remote access scam?
The ACCC said that the remote access scams, exactly like what Barry experienced, took $7.2 million from Australians within the six months to July 2021.
Between 2020 and 2021, 801 reports of remote access scams by hackers pretending to be Amazon alone caused losses above $1.2 million.
“Commonly called remote access scams, scammers pretend to be from well-known organisations such as Telstra, eBay, NBN Co, Amazon, banks, government organisations, police, and computer and IT support organisations,” ACCC said.
“They create a sense of urgency to make you give them access to your computer via remote access software.
“Scams of this nature will often be an unexpected phone call saying you’ve been billed for a purchase you didn’t make, your device has been compromised, or your account has been hacked.
“The scammer will pretend to assist you or ask you to assist them to catch the scammer. They will tell you to download remote control software such as AnyDesk or TeamViewer.
“Once the scammer has control of your computer or device, they will ask you to log into applications such as emails, internet banking or PayPal accounts, which will allow the scammer to access your banking and personal information to impersonate you or steal their money.”
‘I’m usually not like that’
Casey has been a Commonwealth Bank client since he first started school, and school banking representatives visited his school with piggy banks and passbooks — but banking has become almost unrecognisable since then
“I’ve been a customer of Commonwealth Bank since 1969, since I was five years old,” he said.
“The two home loans I got, I got through the Commonwealth Bank. Everything I’ve done, I’ve done through the Commonwealth Bank.”
As loyal as they come, Casey said he had “blind faith” that his bank would protect him from scams targeting his account and rushed into the Rockdale branch to report the matter as soon as it opened, lodging a police report shortly after.
“It was only within 24 hours that the bank got back to me and said, basically, ‘it’s your fault’.”
“I just immediately shut down. I berated myself about it and thought, you deserved this because you were so stupid.
“The scam, the illness, and the faith I had in the bank all conspired so that I was not quite with it. I blame myself.
“It was like an out-of-body experience because I’m usually not like that, I’m usually pretty cynical about everything.”
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Casey, who had built up his bank balance from $1000 over the 15 years following his divorce, said: “When I had that $80,000 in my bank, it was the first time that I felt comfortable.”
“It feels like I’m forever keeping my head just above quicksand.”
When Commonwealth Bank shut down his two local branches, Beaconsfield and Arncliffe, he was convinced to move to electronic banking.
But Casey has since reverted to doing everything in person, and he’s not the only one.
Aaron Bugal, a spokesperson for cybersecurity company Sophos, told 7NEWS.com.au: “My mum still goes into the bank branch to do all her banking because she just doesn’t trust the online presence, or herself online.”
“Her best friend got fleeced out of $90,000 — she was lucky, she got that back after about six-and-a-half months of waiting. That was a terrible time for her, and she’s in her 90s.”
‘All too familiar’: expert says
A Commonwealth Bank spokesperson told 7NEWS.com.au: “CBA acknowledges the impact scams are having on customers and the community broadly.”
“We encourage customers to remain cautious and to stop, check and reject. Be wary of clicking on links, particularly where the message is from an unfamiliar sender or allowing a third party to access your devices remotely.”
“Customers should never disclose confidential banking information, including log in details, passwords or one time codes to anyone.
Bugal agreed that the bank already takes measures to protect customers’ funds but said that more can be done.
“There’s a lot that the bank has done without being too intrusive to the normal process of business. It’s a bit of a delicate balance for them, but I do think they can help to build cultural awareness, especially in the elderly,” he said.
“The big problem with what has happened to Barry is it’s all too familiar.”
An Amazon spokesperson told 7NEWS.com.au: “Although these scams take place outside our store, we will continue to invest in protecting customers and educating the public on scam avoidance.”
“Amazon will never ask for credit card information to verify identity before helping with a customer service issue, ask for payment over phone or email, request that customers purchase a gift card for any service, or download or install any software.”
A Commonwealth Bank spokesperson told 7NEWS.com.au that it was already developing new scam detection, prevention and education initiatives.
But Bugal said the bank could do more “when it comes to covering the costs of people who have been defrauded”, noting that banks in the UK are mandated “to do better” in this area, and that similar measures could be taken in Australia.
“I can absolutely see this being applied in Australia because it is costing the elderly their pensions, and a lot of them are being fleeced.”
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