Senior swindles $400K by telling ‘very sophisticated’ lies about cancer, family tragedy

In a tale that reads like a crime novel, a senior’s web of deceit has left her community reeling and her closest friends betrayed.

Viviana Leonor Varas, a 63-year-old from Sydney, spun a series of elaborate lies, including a fake cancer diagnosis and the death of her mother from COVID-19, to con her closest friends out of nearly $400,000.



Driven by a gambling addiction, Varas convinced her victims to part with their hard-earned money under the guise of investing in a fictitious family trust in the United States.

The trust, she claimed, was established by a great-great-grandfather, and she promised lucrative returns on their investments.


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A 63-year-old woman fleeced almost $400,000 from her friends. Image source: Shutterstock



Her victims, blinded by trust and the prospect of financial gain, handed over sums ranging from $32,000 to $145,000.

Among the victims was Varas' best friend, who had met her in 2016.

This friend shared that they trusted Varas to help with their young family and even knitted clothes for them.



‘She befriended me and built up that trust,’ the victim stated.

‘She just really integrated herself into my life and said, “You’re just like a daughter to me.” She just groomed me and at my most vulnerable time.’

Varas' first request for money was supposedly for storage costs, but it quickly escalated to significant investments in a non-existent trust in the US.

When the victim sought repayment for her $145,000 investment, Varas provided her with a $104,000 check, which bounced.

The victim then reported her to the police in May 2018.



The court heard that she hadn't followed up earlier because Varas had informed her that she had cancer and was undergoing treatment in the hospital.

‘None of this was true, she was not undergoing cancer treatment,’ Magistrate Christine Haskett of Downing Centre Local Court said.

She made elaborate claims to persuade her friends to give her money, including stating that she is a ‘former Wall Street exchange’ investor, a real estate mogul, and has a model daughter.

Another victim, who had sent about $100,000 in investment money to Varas, said: ‘It makes you feel really stupid.’

‘She makes it out that she’s a multi-millionaire and then when I spoke to her best friend’s family, she was just poor as anything. She’s done this to a lot of people,’ they added.



The impact of Varas' actions went beyond financial loss. One couple admitted to having suicidal thoughts after their $105,000 life savings were wiped out.

Their victim impact statement read: ‘They are no longer the optimistic people they once were.’

Varas' deceptions were met with a firm response from the legal system.

Despite her lawyer's attempts to downplay the severity of the crimes and to attribute them to an 'adjustment condition' following a lung cancer diagnosis, Magistrate Haskett was unmoved.

Magistrate Haskett pointed out that Varas quickly went into remission after her diagnosis and stated that this couldn't be used as an excuse for falsely claiming she was in the hospital undergoing cancer treatment in 2020.



Magistrate Haskett said: ‘[The lies] were very sophisticated. People were told lawyers and accountants were involved. Meetings never eventuated. The planning was well thought out.’

‘Lies about family trusts; lies that she worked on Wall Street. Documents that were promised but never produced. She told people she was arranging her mother’s funeral and she’s still alive,’ she added.


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The case was heard in Downing Centre Local Court. Image source: Go To Court Lawyers/YouTube



During the investigation, Varas told the police that her victims were aware of her gambling habit when they gave her the money. She claimed that she was attempting to ‘help them’ by gambling their money, but she denied having a gambling addiction.

‘The victim blaming is outrageous,’ Magistrate Haskett said. ‘She has little insight into the damage that she has done to her victims and that she disagrees with police facts.’



Varas has been sentenced to a year in jail. As part of her sentence, Varas was also ordered to pay back the costs. However, the court heard that she had ‘no assets’ to fulfil this obligation.

The court was informed that her long-term partner of 20 years recently ended their relationship due to her actions. As a result, her three children, including two grandchildren, have also stopped contacting her.

This case serves as a stark reminder of the importance of vigilance when it comes to financial dealings, even with those closest to us.

It's crucial to conduct due diligence and seek independent advice before making any significant financial decisions or investments.

Encourage open conversations about finances with your family members, especially those who may be more susceptible to such scams.
Key Takeaways

  • A senior from Sydney was jailed for conning nearly $400,000 from friends by lying about cancer, a COVID-19 funeral and a fictional US family trust.
  • Viviana Leonor Varas, 63, was sentenced to a year in jail after a magistrate expressed 'concerns' for the community and noted Varas had shown 'no remorse'.
  • Victims of the scam described a betrayal of trust, with Varas using sophisticated lies to convince them to 'invest' their money, leading to significant financial and emotional harm.
  • Despite being ordered to pay back the money, the court heard Varas had 'no assets'.
The case of Viviana Leonor Varas is a cautionary tale that highlights the need for awareness and education on financial scams. As members of the Seniors Discount Club, we must look out for one another and foster an environment where such deceitful acts are less likely to occur.

What advice would you give to others to protect themselves from such scams? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below.
 
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I'm sorry but I would never hand over $100.000 or more no matter how much I trusted a person. I don't even trust shares and authentic investments.

There are a very few people that I would lend money too and those are family members.

She was very wrong what she did to these people and really should be serving more than 12 months jail time but those who gave her the money are nothing but very stupid people !!
 
A US investment trust. Now that's a red flag. And if this woman was actually quite poor wouldn't the friends know?
Anyway that's still a lot of money to give anyone. Our broker whom we have had investments with for years suggested we go into a fund with $200k. Nope not handing over that kinda money. I'm dreading handing over $10k to my son for a car that I know he desperately needs.
Tightfisted and careful
 
A US investment trust. Now that's a red flag. And if this woman was actually quite poor wouldn't the friends know?
Anyway that's still a lot of money to give anyone. Our broker whom we have had investments with for years suggested we go into a fund with $200k. Nope not handing over that kinda money. I'm dreading handing over $10k to my son for a car that I know he desperately needs.
Tightfisted and careful
I'm with you Leah. If your son needs a car, let him get it himself. How else will he "learn you want you work for it". This woman makes me so angry. Parasites, especially family, should see this rotten woman locked up securely in jail and everything she owns changed into money and repaid to family.
 
A US investment trust. Now that's a red flag. And if this woman was actually quite poor wouldn't the friends know?
Anyway that's still a lot of money to give anyone. Our broker whom we have had investments with for years suggested we go into a fund with $200k. Nope not handing over that kinda money. I'm dreading handing over $10k to my son for a car that I know he desperately needs.
Tightfisted and careful
Stick to your guns LeahI, you cannot trust anyone including your broker. Many years ago my mother invested my father's life insurance of $90,000 (after my father died from horrific burns caused by a horrific accident) with a local broker who she had done business with before. Well that was the end of that $90,000. Never seen again after this greedy bastard spent it on his and his wife's overseas holidays and rich lifestyle while my mother and us three kids had to continue working in the family removals business after losing our husband and father in such horrific circumstances. It almost killed my mother when he stole her money. He stole a lot if other people's money as well and was eventually caught and gaoled where he hung himself. Good riddance to bad rubbish!! Never, ever trust anyone outside your immediate family with your hard earned cash. People are thieves especially in this day and age.
 
from what I can gather it was my son's Investment Broker who was behind me getting evicted from my home. Son said he was told "you can get twice the rent for your house" which was an illegal amount at the time. Next thing came the eviction. Don't trust them.
 
Stick to your guns LeahI, you cannot trust anyone including your broker. Many years ago my mother invested my father's life insurance of $90,000 (after my father died from horrific burns caused by a horrific accident) with a local broker who she had done business with before. Well that was the end of that $90,000. Never seen again after this greedy bastard spent it on his and his wife's overseas holidays and rich lifestyle while my mother and us three kids had to continue working in the family removals business after losing our husband and father in such horrific circumstances. It almost killed my mother when he stole her money. He stole a lot if other people's money as well and was eventually caught and gaoled where he hung himself. Good riddance to bad rubbish!! Never, ever trust anyone outside your immediate family with your hard earned cash. People are thieves especially in this day and age.
My partner‘s sister stole $65K from their mother & shoved her in a nursing home. She had early signs of dementia. She also lied to a lawyer saying her aunt who was power of attorney had died. This was BS. A lot more to the story, but she got away with it. Criminal charges should be brought against people who do this. She should be in jail.
 
Yes, brother-in-law made matters very bad for his brother, my husband. He roped my husband into helping him get investors for a company he was starting up with some other people. There was a meeting with everyone where prospective investors were told all about the product and where queries were answered…….most of them were brought in by my husband. In time it was discovered that the money invested had been used for another project which wasn’t completed and there was no money left……everyone including myself and my husband were furious of course and my husband was faced with their anger, couldn’t do anything , and was just as much in the dark as everyone else who lost their money, and no one was able to get their money back. We lost good friends over it and my husband was just devastated at bringing them in…..A good few years ago now and I have completely cut him out of my life……….my husband hasn’t spoken a word to him since then and crosses the road rather than passing by…………..
 
A US investment trust. Now that's a red flag. And if this woman was actually quite poor wouldn't the friends know?
Anyway that's still a lot of money to give anyone. Our broker whom we have had investments with for years suggested we go into a fund with $200k. Nope not handing over that kinda money. I'm dreading handing over $10k to my son for a car that I know he desperately needs.
Tightfisted and careful
I'm a believer if they can't afford a car themselves and the cost of running a car then they shouldn't have one unless under extreme circumstances. I'm thinking of buying my 19 year old a car but only because she is studying hard, Doing alit of night time work placements for uni. Never ask for anything yet always helping others.
I think I would also feel safer with her driving rather than catching trains.

Now if this was my sons , then not a chance
 
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Twelve months doesn’t seem much for what she did, and I’m guessing no one will ever get their money back. Still they were silly enough to give it to her, surely people should be starting to have enough sense not to be conned. Don’t really feel sorry for them.
 
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Twelve months doesn’t seem much for what she did, and I’m guessing no one will ever get their money back. Still they were silly enough to give it to her, surely people should be starting to have enough sense not to be conned. Don’t really feel sorry for them.
It is not much considering if you defraud the Gov for a lot less, you most likely will be charged and jailed for a lot longer (years) even if sick and old and possibly in need - it seems the Gov is allowed to hold and deal out bigger sentences and hold bigger grudges.
It seems people and their non-governmental misery do not count for much. Where is the fairness?
 
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Stick to the old adage "NEVER A BORROWER OR LENDER BE"

Way back early seventies, I was asked to make a birthday cake for a "friends son". On the morning of birthday, after my 2 older children had gone to school the "friend" rang asking, if I could give her and husband a lift, to pick up their car.
I had already got cake from the oven, so got my preschooler ready and went over and picked "friends" up . In the car she asked if we could do the shopping for the party foods, but at the check out she found she had hadn't enough money and asked to borrow $20.00. Luckily???? I had that with me
We then proceeded to pick up her husbands car, by this time -it was almost time to drive back and pick up the children, yr1 &yr 2 , from school . After he had paid for his repairs, we went in our own cars back to our own homes.
On the way I picked up my children from school and while they bathed and changed I finished icing cake etc to take for the party. When they were ready, and cake finished we drove the few kms over to the party. I rang the bell, cake in hand, and three children happily waiting to join party ....... she answered...... said "Oh party is almost over foods all gone " she had made fairy bread only .........
I felt like smashing that cake right there in her face ....But didn't -I just felt so sad for my children BUT not for the so called friendship (usership) I was about to end

PS I never have had that money back - I think she must have forgotten she owed it , or maybe thought I had gifted it to them, and they moved on to places unknown Never a borrower or lender be. NB $20 was a lot of money then- But I learned a very valuable lesson that day
 
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