A 56-year-old Craigie woman was the victim of a $70,000 phone scam after learning she would be arrested if she did not hand over her savings.
She is also one of the lucky few who got some of that money back.
Ari Duncan had only been back to Perth for three months after living in New Zealand for the past seven years.
She had recently sold her house overseas and reopened her “frozen” bank accounts in Perth, so she did not think it was unusual to be contacted by the Australian Taxation Office.
Ms Duncan said she was told she had ‘illegal money’ in her account and needed to give it to the ATO so they could ‘legalise’ it and exchange it for cash. “new tickets”.
“They said if I didn’t give them the illegal money, they would come to my house and arrest me,” she said. “They threatened me.”
For three days, from August 2 to 4 last year, Ms Duncan was told to go to banks in Whitford City, Joondalup and Morley and withdraw the money – $20,000, then $30,000 , then another $20,000 — and meeting a courier outside the stores.
“I was told to give the money to the courier and not to ask questions but to make sure they had the same delivery numbers that I was given,” she said. .
“In Joondalup, I was told to meet the courier near the park, away from the shops. This is because there are a lot of cameras and cars around the shops.
“I told him to be careful. It’s the last of my savings. Now I know it was him.
“Every time he wore a face mask.”
The courier was Mughees Raza, 23, who has now been jailed for the scam.
Ms Duncan said she would also speak to a ‘very, very polite’ woman, who she said was from the ATO.
“She said her name was Emma Green and she told me she had two children, a boy and a girl, aged 7 and 4,” Ms Duncan said. “She said she was 40.”
She said the woman would then stay on the phone all day until the money was delivered.
“They didn’t want to let me go,” she said.
Many do not come forward because they are ashamed.
“From 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., or until I had the money, I was told not to turn it off. I must have had the phone in my purse when I walked into the bank so that they can hear.
Ms Duncan said she even received calls from a man saying he was a Parramatta Policeman and a woman saying she was from Hillarys Police, both of whom gave badge numbers and assured him that the request for ATO money was legitimate.
However, she said after the third meeting that she “felt funny in her stomach”.
“I told them I had no more money, this is my retirement, my life,” she said.
The next day she went to Hillarys Police Station to ask for the woman who had called her and was told she did not exist.
“So I told them what happened,” she said.
“Fortunately, I didn’t delete anything and it wasn’t too late. Proving it can be very difficult.
Joondalup Detective Sergeant Matthew Robinson said they began their investigation immediately and a search warrant was executed at an address in Southern River where they found $8,500 in cash.
Raza was charged and released on bail with “alerts put in place to avoid escaping prosecution”.
He then attempted to flee the country in October, which activated the alerts, and he was apprehended at the airport in possession of another $2,400 in cash. He had a one-way ticket to Pakistan.
Last month, Raza was sentenced to one year and 5 months in prison.
And on Tuesday, Detective Sergeant Robinson was able to return the recovered $10,900 to Ms Duncan.
Raza was also ordered to repay the remaining $59,100 to Ms Duncan.
However, Ms. Duncan may not be his only victim.
“Based on other evidence seized during the search warrant, the Tech Crimes Squad has identified two additional victims,” Detective Sergeant Robinson alleged.
Raza has additionally been charged with scamming a 41-year-old man from Scarborough out of $12,000 and a 62-year-old man from Osborne Park, and will appear in Perth Magistrates Court on January 17.
Detective Sergeant Robinson said it was a reminder for people to be “vigilant”.
“If something doesn’t make sense or doesn’t seem right, just double-check,” he said.
“Do your homework. If someone calls and reports they’re from somewhere, it doesn’t hurt to look up the phone number publicly or call them back. Or call the police and ask for advice.
“Unfortunately, these people prey on the vulnerable. It’s a numbers game for them. They will continue to do so until they have a victim.
Ms Duncan, who was previously a traffic cop, said she felt “stupid and scared at the same time”.
“It was my retirement money, money for my funeral,” she said.
“They were very smart and cunning. I’m not good at computers. I use Windows 95.
She also urges people to be “very, very careful” so they don’t experience what she has.
“It was a hard lesson to learn,” she said.
“That shouldn’t happen. It’s so sad what’s happening. And I’m not the only victim. There is more.”
“Many don’t come forward because they are ashamed.”
Ms Duncan admitted she had been ‘very lucky’ after being told few people got their money back.
However, she still worries about how she will get the rest of what was taken.
How to report suspicious behavior or phone calls:
– Report a violation online: cyber.gov.au
– Scam awareness and information: scamwatch.gov.au
– Assistance with identity crime: idcare.org
– WA scam site: scamnet.wa.gov.au
– Consumer protection advice line: 1300 304 054