Email scammer steals 102yo’s aged care home bond: How to prevent it happening to you

Mar 23, 2021
Aged care bodies are warning families to be extra careful transferring money to aged care homes. Source: Getty

A 102-year-old Perth woman, Nancy Pun, was swindled out of her $375,000 aged care home deposit recently, after an email scam tricked her granddaughter, Phoebe, into transferring the money to the hackers.

When the money was stolen, her family told the ABC that they could barely bring themselves to tell Nancy, worried the news would adversely affect her health.

Phoebe, who has power of attorney for her grandmother, was tricked by scammers posing as an employee of the aged care home over emails.

The family has since received $168,738 of the deposit back, but are still fighting to receive the remainder. The scam is being investigated by The Australian Military Bank and the New South Wales Police.

The devastating situation is sadly not uncommon, with Australians losing more than $7 million to email scams alone so far this year, while a whopping $12.6 million has been lost to phone scams this year. The scam that targeted the Pun family highlights just how brazen fraudsters have become, and how low they are willing to go.

Tim Hicks, general manager of policy and advocacy for Leading Age Services Australia (LASA), the national peak body representing age services providers, says older people can be more vulnerable to financial abuse scams.

Hicks says there are a few ways Australians can protect themselves from ending up in a situation like that of the Puns, advising people to arrange face-to-face meetings with the aged care facility, as well as consulting a financial adviser.

“Older people can often be vulnerable to potential financial abuse because they may have accumulated wealth or an asset like their home,” he said. “The ACCC’s Scamwatch regularly issues warnings about not engaging with unsolicited phone callers posing as Australian Taxation Office employees or representatives of other organisations seeking personal information.”

“LASA abhors any form of abuse suffered by people receiving aged care, including financial abuse. Aged care providers endeavour to ensure prospective residents of aged care homes and their families are aware of who they are dealing with when negotiating to enter residential care.”

Hicks said transferring funds via bank transfer is common, but warned people to phone the facility to double check the details are correct before committing to the transfer.

“An aged care facility would normally arrange to meet face to face with the person seeking to enter a home along with a family member or trusted person,” he said. “Before they meet with a provider, it is advisable they seek the advice of a financial adviser who specialises in aged care.

“When it comes time to commit financially, it would be wise to be in telephone contact with the aged care provider to ensure all necessary details are clear and correct. If unsure about paying through an online bank transfer or secure deposit facility, this can also be discussed with the financial adviser.

“In the past, payment of such a large sum would normally have been conducted using a bank cheque or money order but the cost of a bank cheque can be prohibitive.”

Luke Westenberg, CEO of the Aged Care Industry Association, also recommended calling the aged care facility before transferring any funds, warning that it is unlikely the facility would be sending bank details for accomodation via email.

“We haven’t heard of this scam before, but it does underline the importance of safety and security online,” he said. “In general, we would recommend that people call the aged care facility if anything seems strange or not quite right.

“It is unlikely aged care facilities would be sending bank details for accommodation payments by email – but, again, there would be no harm in telephoning the facility to confirm if you do receive an email like this.”

IMPORTANT LEGAL INFO This article is of a general nature and FYI only, because it doesn’t take into account your financial or legal situation, objectives or needs. That means it’s not financial product or legal advice and shouldn’t be relied upon as if it is. Before making a financial or legal decision, you should work out if the info is appropriate for your situation and get independent, licensed financial services or legal advice.

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Do you know anyone who has been conned by a suspicious email or phone call? What happened?

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