102yo grandmother scammed out of aged care bond in $375,000 email hack

When 102-year-old Nancy Pun’s $375,000 aged care home deposit was stolen, her family could not bring themselves to tell her.

Nancy had only recently settled into an aged care facility, and the family was worried the shock of the missing money would seriously impact her health.

The money, from the sale of the Perth home she’d lived in for almost 40 years, was meant to allow Nancy to live comfortably for the rest of her days.

Instead, it was seized in an elaborate hack and wound up in the hands of scammers.

“It’s my 102-year-old grandmother’s money that’s to pay for her care, her life, the rest of her life and it’s really hard to face that,” Nancy’s granddaughter, Phoebe Pun, said.

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

Phoebe Pun looks into the camera, while sitting at a table.
Since her grandmother’s deposit was stolen, Phoebe Pun has been trying to get it back.(ABC News: Hugh Sando )

“I just went cold. Just shock. ‘Oh my god. What’s just happened. No way, this can’t be happening.’ I’m so careful. But clearly, I could be more careful,” Phoebe said.

Australians have lost more than $7 million to email scams so far this year, but what happened to the Pun family shows just how brazen fraudsters have become.

Moving into aged care

The decision for Nancy to go into aged care late last year wasn’t an easy one.

“It took a long time, like a long time, until she was even remotely comfortable to even consider moving into any kind of assisted living,” Phoebe said.

“She only stopped living on her own in the house … at the beginning of last year.”

Nancy bought the home with her late husband when they moved to Australia from Hong Kong in 1980, to be with their four sons.

She had lived there alone since her husband died in 1995, before briefly living with Phoebe’s parents.

“Due to the age of my parents – her son and my mum – she couldn’t stay with them longer than six months because she needed different care,” Phoebe said.

“As a family, we decided maybe it was time she go into a facility that had all the services that could give her what she needed – not just from a medical side of things if she needed onsite care – but activity wise, because she’s very social as well.

Phoebe arranged for the home to be sold and the proceeds to be used as the bond to help fund Nancy’s place at an aged care facility.

After numerous emails back and forth with the home, Phoebe received the account details for the transfer of the $375,000 bond.

The email contained the name of the aged care home and the BSB and bank account details of an Australian Military Bank account.

She directed $374,251 from the sale of the house to the aged care home, as well as $749 from her own account, but within a week discovered the facility had not received the payments.

“When we realised that maybe it was a scam, I remember it felt like all the blood was just draining out of me,” Phoebe said.

Recovering the money

Since the money went missing in January, Nancy’s family has done everything possible to get it back.

While Phoebe was able to retrieve the $749 sent directly from her bank, so far the family has had no concrete answers on what’s happened to the remaining $374,251.

In Sydney, Nancy’s grandson, Francis Louie, is in disbelief that such a large sum of money could go missing and is concerned by how long the investigation is taking.

“For [that money] to disappear through a property settlement transaction, it’s very alarming,” he said.

“Once this thing was reported, we expected some immediate action by all the different authorities.”

Francis Louie stands outside in a garden and looks at the camera.
Francis Louie is worried how the family will afford to keep their grandmother in care if they can’t recover the money.(ABC News: Ron Foley )

The Australian Military Bank is investigating, as are police in New South Wales where the account is held.

Neither was able to comment on where those investigations are at.

Consumer Protection WA said it was still unclear how the scammers managed to infiltrate the emails, but the Pun family’s situation was representative of a broader trend in scams.

“What we think is happening is that scammers are placing spyware onto people’s computers and that entry can happen in any one of a million different ways,” Commissioner for Consumer Protection Lanie Chopping said.

“People receive email transactions and they make electronic transactions and communications on a daily basis,” she said.

“A scammer can enter that, can place some form of monitoring software in the system and then be able to, for example, look for key words or key numbers to be able to track communication and identify potential victims where they can then intervene.”

The family have since been told some of the money may be recovered, but they have questioned why the banks did not cross-check the account details on such a large transaction.

“There were no red flags raised whatsoever on the bank’s side. That’s a little bit disconcerting, with the obviously apparent rampant cybercrime going on in the world,” Phoebe said.

“It would be great to be able to see an extra level of security on that side of things, like maybe you need to have a name that matches the account number and the BSB.

“If I go to deposit a cheque at a bank, they won’t deposit it if it’s wrong, so why can’t we look at implementing something a similar way?

“There has to be something that can be done to increase the security to try and at least halt these guys a little bit or slow them down at least. It’s crazy.”

The commissioner said there was a role for banks to do more to improve the system for consumers.

WA consumer protection commissioner Lanie Chopping, mid sentence.
Commissioner for Consumer Protection Lanie Chopping says banks could do more to prevent these types of scams.(ABC News: Hugh Sando )

“I definitely think that name matching and better data analytics in relation to where money is going within Australian borders would be a step in the right direction,” she said.

“Many years ago when we had significant problems with wire transfers for scams, we worked with the wire transfer companies to essentially have a list of people who should not be recipients of money or senders of money, so we had blocking senders and blocking recipients.

“That really saw a significant decrease in the number of wire-related transfer scams.”

‘She’s really happy there’

For now, Nancy is happily living in the home, run by Opal Health Care, using her pension to pay a daily fee, while her family tries to retrieve the money.

“She likes the food there. It’s really good. She’s really happy there,” Phoebe said.

Phoebe looks at a photo of Nancy in aged care on her phone.
Phoebe’s grandmother Nancy has been happily living in residential care since early this year, despite the missing money.(ABC News: Hugh Sando )

“There are a lot of different things they put on for the residents so it’s nice for her to get out and do things.”

A spokeswoman for Opal Health Care declined an interview and said they could not comment on the situation due to privacy obligations.

Nancy’s grandchildren said the home had allowed her to stay without paying the deposit, but the family was worried how it would afford her care if it was never able to get the money back.

They still haven’t told their grandmother what’s happened.

“We didn’t want to worry her because when we say ‘money is missing’, [she might] start asking, ‘What’s going to happen to me?'” Francis said.

“At her age, I just want her to enjoy life and not to worry about anything else.

“Worse comes to worst, the extended family will just have to chip in somehow, but I don’t know how we’re going to find the money … it’s not a small amount.”

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