An Australian journalist issued a dire warning to other Westpac customers after she cheated of $35,000 by scammers posing as the bank.
Jessica Ridley, a mother of one, had her company account emptied after Westpac phone numbers were hijacked by a scam syndicate.
Speaking to 9Honey, Ridley says the fraud was incredibly sophisticated and the scammer kept her on the phone for hours in an attempt to transfer her hard-earned money to another bank account.
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“I just finished additional today and was going through some emails when I got a text letting me know that £23.97 had been taken from my bank account, use this ‘one time code’ to verify,” he explains.
“I knew right away it was dodgy so I called Westpac and the line was busy. Two minutes later I got a text saying I was getting a call from the fraud department.”
The “fraud department” was a man named Owen Clancy who, of course, was not an actual employee of the big four banks.
“You think, ‘It’s never going to happen to me,’ but it’s really smart how they did it.”
Ridley didn’t know it at the time, but the scammers had found a way to impersonate legitimate Westpac phone numbers.
“I was immediately relieved and thought Westpac knew. This man, Owen, identified himself and quoted the case number to put my mind at ease as well,” says Ridley.
“We talked about everything and decided to close the card and reissue another one. It was a step-by-step process and it took over an hour.”
Later that day, during one of the calls, Ridley was sitting in the hospital emergency room because her son Frank had broken his arm in day care.
His mind was elsewhere as he listened to the scammer explain how he was “helping” Ridley protect her MasterCard account from scammers.
But instead, $35,000 of Ridley’s money from his trading account was being drained and transferred to another NAB account.
“He was on the phone empathizing with me, saying he was sorry he was having such a difficult time,” recalls Ridley.
“There was nothing in that process that made me think, ‘Wait a second, something’s not right,’ until I noticed that the account they were transferring to was a NAB account.”
Once Ridley realized his account had been hacked, he contacted the real Westpac fraud department.
Disconcertingly, it was the exact same number that the scammers had managed to spoof.
When he received a legitimate automated text message from the bank, it appeared in the same thread in which the fraudulent messages had been sent.
It was all so complicated and confusing that Ridley says he worries older Westpac customers are susceptible to the scam.
“You think, ‘It’s never going to happen to me,’ but it’s very clever how they did it,” he says. “I can’t believe the scale of this sophistication.”
Ridley admits it “really hurts” to be targeted by scammers and wants to make sure no other Australians fall victim to fraud.
“It makes me 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 received the $35,000 from Westpac. The team is still chasing his cash and investigating how the scammers were able to use his phone numbers.
The investigation department told Ridley that the incident would be resolved in 21 days.
As for the missing cash, the money was transferred from the NAB account to an offshore account, which researchers suspect could be used for cryptocurrencies, says Ridley.
Westpac shared a statement with Ben Fordham on 2GBwhere Ridley also spoke about her ordeal, confirming that the company has seen an increase in scam activity.
“There has been an increase in reported scam activity, and we encourage all Australians to be vigilant. Customers should be wary of any unexpected calls, texts or emails claiming to be from their bank or other trusted organisation.” says the statement.
“When in doubt, ask for a reference number and call back to a public number to confirm if the call was genuine.”
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