Grandma conned in fake ATO scam

A Melbourne grandmother was cheated out of $5000 by a conman claiming to be from the Australian Tax Office (ATO), who ordered her to pay penalties with iTunes gift cards or go to jail.

The victim of the cruel yet clever scam, 67-year-old Glenice Harrison had just done a nine-day stint in hospital with pneumonia. On her return, she found five voice messages from the ATO ordering her to pay back a $9000 debt or she would serve a jail term.

Ms Harrison thought the debt may have been related to her small business and, after a six-hour conversation with a man bearing an Indian accent, she was convinced that she had no choice but to repay the debt. 

The fake ATO consultant had a good knowledge of the Australian tax system, as well as Ms Harrison’s personal and financial details.

She questioned the legitimacy of the phone call, but because the conman knew her details and because she was told that she had the right to make a police report but doing so would see her apprehended and charged, she was convinced the call was real.

“I was getting hooked, deeper and deeper,” she said. “They assured me if I could pay back the monies owing, my fraudulent activities would not be made public.”

Although she was cajoled into believing the scammer was legitimate, she still was not prepared to give her credit card details over the phone. She was then told she could repay the amount using iTunes gift cards. The scammer even walked her through purchasing 10 $500 gift cards from Woolworths stores around Melbourne. She was bullied into buying more but thankfully, she had reached her credit card limit at Woolworths.

Once she had bought the gift cards, and with the impression that she was under surveillance, Ms Harrison then sat in her car and relayed the iTunes activation codes to the conman.

Ms Harrison reported the scam to the police but she is unlikely to have her money refunded.

“Very cruel and vicious” is how Consumer Affairs Minister Jane Garrett labelled the scam, warning others to be wary of such fraudulent schemes.

“Consumer Affairs Victoria has already had hundreds of complaints and we know that it’s replicated nationally,” she said. “They’re very good at getting people on the hook.”


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