Western Australia’s Consumer Protection commissioner David Hillyard issued a warning to be alert for scammers who are stealing the images and contact details of legitimate businesses and individuals to carry out their hoax.
In this particular instance, a woman who wished only to be identified as Fay, from the state’s wheatbelt, met a man who claimed to be a ship captain named Thomas Steve.
The fraudster used real images of a Danish sea captain as part of his ruse and claimed to have a teenage daughter named Sonia.
According to the commissioner, Fay was duped into sending money for “Sonia’s” birthday and school activities, before eventually making bank transfers worth more than $9,000 to receive a jewellery package that her beau claimed was being sent by Westline Delivery.
However, like Captain Thomas Steve, the delivery company was fake. Its website at westlinedelivery.com used the contact details and staff photos of other businesses to make it appear legitimate. It is not clear how many businesses and individuals may have been misrepresented as part of the scam.
The experience has left Fay drained emotionally as well as financially, as she said she has “lost my trust in people”.
“He was quite convincing and it seemed like the real thing. It was a huge lesson for me and I hope other women will be more cautious, especially if anyone asks for money,” she said.
Fay urged people dealing with anyone online to carefully verify who they are communicating with.
“Chat to the person by video, such as on Skype, to make sure they look like their profile picture,” she said.
Mr Hillyard said that such scams can cause significant damage to everyone caught up in them – not just the primary targets.
“Alongside the financial losses are the significant emotional impacts for victims of the deception, as well as people who are misrepresented online, such as the real Danish captain in this case,” he said.
Consumer Protection was able to reach the real Danish ship captain whose photos had been used in the ruse, who claimed that his is “one of the most copied profiles on the internet”.
“I receive a lot of messages from people who think I’m the person they’ve been talking to,” it quoted the unidentified man as stating.
Impersonation scams are nothing new and regularly target SMEs as well as individuals.
In September, it was revealed that a Perth car dealership had lost $65,000 in a sophisticated invoice payment scam, despite the company having taken precautions to try and verify the validity of the invoice prior to making payment.