When the phone rang on the morning of April 11, Neil and Beryl Kennedy had no idea that their day’s plans would be waylaid by a marathon five-and-a-half hour scam phone call.
By the end of it the pair had only narrowly avoided losing $4400 of their life savings.
The retired married couple from Eaglemount Heights were surprised when an unexpected caller – who told them he was from Telstra – said the company owed them $440, and offered to repay it. He gave them instructions on how to download a program called Team Viewer that would provide him remote access into their computer so he could transfer the money.
The couple wasn’t suspicious at this point because as far as they knew, scammers call to tell you that you owe them money, not the other way around. They’d also had a legitimate bill query with Telstra a few months ago for a similar amount, which the scammer seemed to be aware of.
Once the Team Viewer program was installed, the caller got the Kennedys to access their online banking, where he “accidentally” deposited $4400. He told them they had to hand back the overpayment immediately or they would face investigation by the Australian Federal Police.
But a simple bank transfer would not suffice – the Kennedys were told to go to a nearby shopping centre to buy iTunes cards to the value of $4400, and then relay the codes to the caller. The couple was also told to stay on the phone while they made their way to the shopping centre.
The first two stores the caller directed them to proved unfruitful: one was permanently closed, and the other didn’t have enough iTunes cards in stock to reach $4400. Staff at the second store raised suspicions that the phone call was a scam, but fear of prosecution by the AFP had taken over the couple and they were convinced they needed to repay the money.
Before trying a third store, the Kennedys made a detour to a nearby branch of their bank. They thought that if they could just transfer the $4400 it would save all the running around.
But bank staff were immediately suspicious and checked the couple’s accounts. After spotting unauthorised activity, the bank shut the Kennedys’ accounts and informed them it was a scam. The couple then hung up – five-and-a-half hours after the phone had first rung.
“We’re very lucky we didn’t lose anything, apart from the cost for the laptop to get fixed and a lot of heartache,” Neil said. “We’ve learnt our lesson. We’re not giving anyone access to our computer or personal information again.”
The Kennedys are still receiving calls from scammers, but now, they hang up immediately.
- When you receive an unexpected contact – whether it’s on the phone, by mail, or online – keep in mind the possibility that it might be a scam.
- Be sure of who you’re dealing with. Try to verify the caller is legitimate through an independent source (like a phone book or online search), and never use the contact details the caller provided you.
- Don’t respond to unsolicited requests to access your computer – companies will never ask you to do this. The scammer wants to infect your computer so they can access your passwords and personal details.
- Beware of requests for your details or money. Don’t share this with anyone you don’t know and trust.
- Be wary of requests for payment through unusual methods, like iTunes cards, gift cards, or virtual currency like Bitcoin.
- Choose passwords that would be hard to guess – try to include a mix of upper case and lower case letters, numbers, and symbols – and change them as regularly as you can. Don’t use the same password for multiple accounts, and avoid sharing your passwords with anyone. Consider using a password manager to manage each different account you use online.
- Avoid using public WiFi to access online banking or other accounts with sensitive personal information.
If you have fallen victim to a scam call, report the matter through the Australian Cybercrime Online Reporting Network (ACORN) and your local police. If you are a Telstra customer, you can reach out to us through our security reporting service.