Bremer Bay woman hit by ‘authentic-looking’ email scam targeting home builders

Headshot of David Johns
David JohnsThe West Australian
VideoPolice have issued fresh warnings after a woman was tricked into sending more than $200 thousand dollars to an alleged con man.

A Bremer Bay woman has revealed how she was ripped off to the tune of $34,000 by scammers who hacked into the email account of her building company.

Astrid, whose last name has been withheld, said she had employed a builder for a Bremer Bay holiday house.

As she was preparing to make the final payment and receive the keys to her house, she received an email from her builder telling her the bank account details had changed. “I questioned it over email, but they sent me another email confirming the change of details,” she said.

The scammers had sent the email from the builder’s email address, using the same branding and the name of a person who legitimately worked there.

“Everything looked 100 per cent authentic,” Astrid said.

She made the $34,000 transfer, but just a few days later, her builder contacted her — this time to ask if she had made the final payment.

When she realised the error, she contacted the bank immediately, discovering the scammers had opened up an account under the same name as the builder.

Astrid said the bank managed to freeze the account and retrieve $15,000 of her stolen money — but it was unlikely she would be able to recover the rest.

Fortunately for Astrid, her builder has agreed to hand over the keys to her house even though she may be $20,000 short on her final payment.

“It’s a bit of a nightmare, to be honest,” she said.

“I had no reason to believe it was illegitimate.”

Her advice for others who are dealing with large sums of money is to pick up a phone or confirm details in person if possible.

Commissioner for Consumer Protection David Hillyard said another client of the same builder was also targeted, with $38,000 fleeced from them.

He said both businesses and customers should be cautious of any emails advising of a change of bank account details, even if they are coming from a legitimate email address.

“Email addresses can also be ‘spoofed’, so they look like they are coming from the person or company you are dealing with,” he said.

Building Commissioner Ken Bowron urged builders to increase their cybersecurity to protect against scammers.

Log on to scamnet.wa.gov.au, email consumer@dmirs.wa.gov.au or call 1300 304 054 for information and advice on scams.

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