False billing trend surges despite Aussies grow awareness of other scams

In an age where technology has become an integral part of our daily lives, the threat of cybercrime looms larger than ever.

Australians, particularly those who have embraced the digital world later in life, are becoming increasingly savvy when identifying potential scams.

However, despite this growing awareness, there's a concerning trend: false billing scams are catching even the most vigilant among us.

Inbound tour operator Meng Wong's harrowing experience is a cautionary tale for all Australians.

After his client transferred $80,000 to a scammer's account, believing it to be payment for Wong's travel company, the stark reality of the situation became clear.

The scammer had manipulated the billing information, leading to a significant financial loss.

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Meng Wong fell into a false billing scam after his client transferred $80,000 to a scammer’s account. Credit: ABC News In-depth / Youtube

'I love this country, I’ve lived here for 30 years, but our banking system is a joke,' Wong said, expressing his frustration with the banking system’s vulnerabilities.

'How can scammers so easily trick our banks and steal tens of thousands of dollars?'

The scammer's method was deceptively simple: fake emails and invoices with altered bank details, yet retaining Wong's business name to appear legitimate.

‘I sent [the client] the final itinerary...and I asked them to make the final payment,’ Wong said.

‘As the group was about to come, I looked at the [invoice] again, and I saw that they had sent it to a different bank and a different bank account number.’

‘Money can actually go into a bank account whereby the account name and the account number absolutely do not match,’ Wong added.

‘The system basically allows the money to go in and the money to go out unabated and without any questions asked.’

Suncorp Bank, involved in this case, said they restrict accounts when notified of fraudulent activity.

‘Unfortunately, in some cases, funds are transferred out of the Suncorp Bank account prior to concerns being reported to us,’ a spokesperson said.

A letter from the National Australia Bank addressed to Wong's company stated that because the funds had been transferred to a Suncorp account, the bank was unable to take any further action.

They also mentioned that the Australian Financial Complaints Authority was unlikely to intervene, expressing regret for the situation, which NAB described as an ‘inconvenience.’

Wong couldn’t get his money back, and he's worried the scammers might try to cheat him again soon.

The Australian banking industry is not turning a blind eye to this growing issue.

The Scam-Safe Accord, a commitment by banks including Suncorp, aims to implement measures to combat cybercriminals.

One such measure is the cross-checking of account names before transactions are processed, a system that has seen success in reducing fraud in other countries.

'The Dutch have done it, they did it back in 2017, and by implementing that they had a reduction of 81 per cent of fraud and scams,' independent fraud analyst Brett Warfield reported.

'The United Kingdom did it in 2020, and they had a 35 per cent reduction the following year in fraud and scams, so it works.'

Warfield suggested that becoming a target for scammers might start with innocent actions like using public Wi-Fi, enabling cybercriminals to monitor your online behaviour and accessing your email credentials and passwords.

‘Don't do any personal banking, don't do any banking on behalf of your organisation—be very careful about what you access when you're at that wi-fi hotspot,’ he said.

If you have been scammed or know someone who has, please report it to Scamwatch here. You may also visit our Scam Watch forum to be updated on the latest scam updates.
While these measures are a step in the right direction, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) and experts like Deputy Chair Catriona Lowe believe that mandatory, enforceable codes across industries are necessary to hold entities accountable and protect consumers.

‘The codes should set a high bar for the initiatives that industry needs to be putting in place, and where that high bar is not met…we think there is a case for consumers to be compensated,’ she said.

The ACCC's latest Targeting Scams report indicated that while overall losses to scams have declined, false billing scams continue to rise.

Scammers are targeting high-value transactions, such as real estate purchases and travel, to maximise their ill-gotten gains.

You can watch ABC News’ coverage below:

Credit: ABC News In-depth / YouTube

Key Takeaways
  • False billing scams are on the rise in Australia, with victims losing large sums of money through sophisticated email schemes.
  • Meng Wong, an inbound tour operator, and his client were defrauded of $80,000 after receiving tampered invoices with incorrect bank details.
  • The Australian Banking Association has announced a Scam-Safe Accord that will implement safer banking measures, including cross-checking account names, between 2024 and 2025.
  • The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission advocates for mandatory, enforceable anti-scam regulation across industries to better protect consumers and potentially compensate victims.
What do you think of this story, members? Have you or someone else fell victim to this type of scam? Share them in the comments below!
Pay by cheque or cash; you can still transfer cash from your pocket into someone else's bank account and it is safer to go to their bank branch to do it, rather than pay through the internet, if you can. However that is rather old-fashioned, isn't it?
Here's a thought. Australian banks AIM to do something about such scams. 7 long years ago the Dutch actually DID do something about such scams. Our banking industry is a bit slow on the uptake, methinks. Even Mother England got there 4 years ago.
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How easy it would be to block any payments with different names and details on any large transfer until you could verify it but our banks are so slow.
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And here's another thought. The Dutch got there 7 years ago, so it can't be an insuperable problem. Our banks haven't put in place the system the Dutch used 7 years ago. Is that laziness and therefore negligence in protecting our accounts, or is it simply that our banks simply don't give a tinker's cuss about protecting our accounts and thus lack a sense of responsibility?

I wonder what Slater and Gordon might think of it.
I think that the banks and other financial institutions could also bring in a system where the money transfers are delayed so the bank or financial institution can ensure that the money transfers are legitimate. If the bank or financial institution messaged or contacted those involved in larger money transfers ($1000) to ensure they are consenting to the transfer of funds into a specific account. This would ensure both parties have consented and agree to large money transfers. I think it is the only way to defeat the scammers and organized crime gangs. The banks have already boasted billion-dollar profits. It is about time the banks and financial institutions took more responsibility for looking after the interests of its vulnerable customers and not just looking after their profit margins.
Even if I'm transferring $50, I check the details 10 times before hitting the button to send and even then it's only to people who I know have have triple checked the details. Maybe if more people did this there wouldn't be so many mistakes.
That is the beauty of one's cheque book. One handwrites the name of the recipient on the cheque together with the amount in handwriting and numbers, and then signs it. It has proved very secure for the last 100 years, at least. Yes, cheques may be lost or stolen, but that is easily fixed. Oh; the banks and our stupid government want to get rid of them by 2027 or something like that.
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