A cunning bank scam wipes out couple's $240,000 life savings—are your funds at risk, too?

In an age where digital convenience is often celebrated, the darker side of our online world reveals itself in sophisticated scams that can devastate lives in the blink of an eye.

This harsh reality hit home for a Sunshine Coast couple, Kerry O'Mahony and Kerry Littlejohn, who fell victim to a cunning bank scam that wiped out their life savings, a staggering quarter of a million dollars.

This cautionary tale serves as a stark reminder that no one is immune to the threat of financial fraud, and it begs the question: Are your funds at risk, too?



The couple's ordeal began innocently enough as they sought to maximise their returns by shopping around for the best interest rate on their term deposit.

They came across an offer from ING Australia, or so they thought, which led to a series of events that would culminate in a financial nightmare.


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Sunshine Coast couple fell victim to a cunning bank scam, wiping out their $240,000 savings. Credit: Shutterstock


‘I clicked on obtain a quote, and within, I think, about a day or two of doing that, we had a phone call…from ING,’ O'Mahony said.

The purported ING employee provided them with competitive quotes, documents, contracts, and payment instructions, all adorned with the bank's official logos. However, it was all an elaborate facade.

The couple's savings were with Suncorp bank at the time, necessitating a visit to their local branch to facilitate the transfer of funds.

Despite some initial doubts, the Suncorp teller, after reviewing the emails, suggested, ‘He looked at [the emails], and then he said “yeah, it looks alright, but you know if you're really concerned, you can ring ING”,’ O'Mahony said.

O’Mahony did just that in front of the teller, using a contact number from a Google search.



‘I did a Google search for the ING contact number. [It] was exactly what I put in, and it came up: 13 34 64,’ she said.

‘It is their phone number, but I rang it, and I didn't get through to ING, I got through directly to the scammers.’

Assured by the fake ING representative on the other end of the line, the couple proceeded with the transfer.

The telltale signs of a scam were present but went unnoticed.

The account details provided by the scammers were for a Commonwealth Bank account, not ING, and the email address used was not an authorised ING email.

By the time the couple realised the scam and contacted Commonwealth Bank, their $240,000 had vanished.



‘[It was] taken out pretty much straightaway and then moved around the world through various IP addresses,’ O'Mahony said.

The pair blamed the scammers for the incident, but they also asserted that Suncorp is accountable.

‘I just felt that [Suncorp's] duty of care to us was sadly lacking,’ O'Mahony said.

O’Mahony and Littlejohn filed a complaint with the Australian Financial Complaints Authority.



In response, Suncorp Bank has stated that it is supportive and will fully participate in the external review process by AFCA.

ING and Commonwealth Bank have also released statements acknowledging the increasing sophistication of scams and the importance of educating customers on protecting themselves.

You can read Suncorp Bank’s full statement below:
This case is currently being reviewed by AFCA, the independent dispute resolution body for consumers with financial complaints.

Suncorp Bank is very supportive and will fully participate in this external review process.

Suncorp Bank understands the impact frauds and scams can have on individuals.

Alongside the banking industry, we are committed to implementing the
measures outlined in the Scam-Safe Accord including account name checking for domestic payments.

If you suspect you may have been scammed, please reach out and report your experience to the ACCC: https://www.scamwatch.gov.au/report-a-scam
Key Takeaways

  • A Sunshine Coast couple lost nearly $240,000 in a sophisticated scam involving a fake ING employee and counterfeit email documents.
  • Despite being cautious and consulting a bank teller, the couple's call to verify the scammer's legitimacy was intercepted via phone spoofing, leading them to believe they were speaking to ING.
  • The scam highlighted failings in the verification processes, as the money was sent to a Commonwealth Bank account rather than ING, a detail that was overlooked.
  • The couple has lodged a complaint with the Australian Financial Complaints Authority, and all banks involved have acknowledged the need for increased awareness and prevention of such sophisticated scams.
Have you or someone you know been affected by a similar scam? What measures do you take to safeguard your savings? Join the conversation below and help us spread the word on staying scam-safe.
 
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What sticks in my mind is that would any of us rely on the opinions of a teller regarding the safety of all our life savings?

However, in my opinion, the tellers initial review of the emails was insufficient. Suncorp did not do enough in the verification process, given it has a duty of care to it's customers. Suncorp should have verified the account details independently and confirmed the legitimacy of the transfer. If they did that, then it's game over for the scammers.

One could accuse the customers of not being cautious enough, but I think they were let down by the bank's poor efforts to act out the crucial role banks should follow to prevent such scams. Seems to me the tellers training or awareness was not there either and for that amount of money, he should have referred the matter to someone who gets paid for that level of responsibility. Red flags should have gone off in his mind.

Here's what I found out about phone spoofing.
  1. Phone Spoofing Mechanics:
    • Phone spoofing involves using fake caller ID information to mask the true source of an incoming call.
    • Scammers often mimic numbers from reputable companies, government agencies, or familiar area codes to trick recipients into answering calls.
    • Spoofed calls can lead to phishing attempts, scams, and privacy breaches.
  2. Protecting Against Phone Spoofing:
    • Don’t share your phone number or other personal data unless necessary.
    • Be wary of online prize draws and sweepstakes; read terms and conditions carefully.
    • Leave consent boxes allowing data sharing or selling unchecked.
    • Be cautious if someone asks you to transfer money to another bank account.
    • Verify phone numbers independently
    • Use strong anti-malware apps or security software on your phone.
Remember, vigilance and skepticism are essential when dealing with financial transactions. Always verify independently, especially when transferring significant amounts of money.
 
Their bank employee at Suncorp should have checked if legit or not. Finding phone numbers on Google is asking for trouble
Problem with fb is there are too many ads that look too good and obviously not be trusted and fb alows such ads which are scams is not good at all
 
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Reactions: Jennie
What sticks in my mind is that would any of us rely on the opinions of a teller regarding the safety of all our life savings?

However, in my opinion, the tellers initial review of the emails was insufficient. Suncorp did not do enough in the verification process, given it has a duty of care to it's customers. Suncorp should have verified the account details independently and confirmed the legitimacy of the transfer. If they did that, then it's game over for the scammers.

One could accuse the customers of not being cautious enough, but I think they were let down by the bank's poor efforts to act out the crucial role banks should follow to prevent such scams. Seems to me the tellers training or awareness was not there either and for that amount of money, he should have referred the matter to someone who gets paid for that level of responsibility. Red flags should have gone off in his mind.

Here's what I found out about phone spoofing.
  1. Phone Spoofing Mechanics:
    • Phone spoofing involves using fake caller ID information to mask the true source of an incoming call.
    • Scammers often mimic numbers from reputable companies, government agencies, or familiar area codes to trick recipients into answering calls.
    • Spoofed calls can lead to phishing attempts, scams, and privacy breaches.
  2. Protecting Against Phone Spoofing:
    • Don’t share your phone number or other personal data unless necessary.
    • Be wary of online prize draws and sweepstakes; read terms and conditions carefully.
    • Leave consent boxes allowing data sharing or selling unchecked.
    • Be cautious if someone asks you to transfer money to another bank account.
    • Verify phone numbers independently
    • Use strong anti-malware apps or security software on your phone.
Remember, vigilance and skepticism are essential when dealing with financial transactions. Always verify independently, especially when transferring significant amounts of money.
I think the biggest fault lies with Ing and Telcos. Banks should be searching for illegitimate websites bearing their brand. And the Telcos should have measures in place to stop routing of phone numbers.
Suncorp are not at fault. The teller suggested they call the ING, which by the story the couple had not thought to do that themselves. We all jump.up and down when the banks won't let us have full access to all of our money any time and then cry and poo poo them when it goes wrong.
Can't have it both ways.
 
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Their bank employee at Suncorp should have checked if legit or not. Finding phone numbers on Google is asking for trouble
Problem with fb is there are too many ads that look too good and obviously not be trusted and fb alows such ads which are scams is not good at all
How else would you find a phone number besides googling it?
And the number is correct 133464.
The customer rang it not the bank employee. Not Suncorp at fault.
 
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All of these stories have one common theme: Money and how to make more of it.
Would anyone, in there right mind, play with their life's savings just to earn a few more dollars?
There seems to be many that are not in their right mind.
 
I don't like any of the big 4 banks, they & many others have become so impersonal & you are treated like a number. At our financial institution we get to know the manager & staff. When we have accessed our money for home renovations they ask many questions & have confirmed that the company we are dealing with is legitimate. We've been banking with them for over 30 years. Suncorp & ING would be on the bottom of our list for a financial institution that we would ever deal with.
 
We were scammed exactly the same way. Contacted ING for term deposit rates. Scammers copied the website. Went to a NAB bank to transfer money, ended up going to ANZ account set up by scammers. Lost $400k. After engaging a lawyer, and many emails and phone calls later we were reimbursed a significant amount by the NAB due to their failure to do due diligence to detect a scam. We were one of the few lucky ones.
 
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Reactions: Cheezil
For starters, I would not deal with a bank over the phone with an amount like that.
read my reply We went to physical bank to transfer our money for safety and they still lost it. The problem with ING is there is no bank. You have to do all transactions online. That’s why they are a haven for scammers. We’ve since known many people who have been scammed the same way.
 
People are just trying to be greedy blaming others on the own mistake. With that much money they should have dealt with the bank in person. Yes ring & get quotes but do it in person
ING don't have physical branches, do they? All done online I believe ... the world we live in!
 
Same thing happened to us - our loss was $340,000 & the Bank the scam was linked to was Misubishi Finacial. We did due diligence investigations (as much as we could, during covid lockdown). Bottom line was .... our financial Institution - Latrobe and 2 major banks involved whiped their hands of any responsibility, along with all the other authorities that we reported it to. Saying "it's an overseas crime, we have no juristiction". I'm still amazed that these scams are currently happening, it's referred to as a Scamdemic, yet no assistance or care is given to us as victims of crime.
 

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