Sydney family loses $80,000 in scam which ACCC warns has targeted hundreds of Aussies this year

A Sydney dad thought he was starting a new job working from home, but he was about to be manipulated out of his family’s life savings – more than $80,000 – in just two days.

He was introduced to a fake employer and added to a WhatsApp group filled with fake colleagues, all working together on an elaborate scam – one that the ACCC says is all too common.

The Marsden Park family were so embarrassed by their loss that they asked to remain anonymous – their real names have been omitted from this article to respect their privacy.

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Petrol franchisee owner John, 48, was looking for some extra cash to pay the bills while attempting to sell his business which, due to pandemic-related impacts and a new motorway diverting trucks and traffic away, is no longer profitable.

His children Nick, 19, and Kathleen, 21, both study full time, and his wife Carol does not work, which means John is the sole earner for his family.

“We didn’t have any income, we needed some way for money to come in, so we were sort of desperate,” Nick told 7NEWS.com.au.

When John saw a job opportunity pop up on Facebook on August 24 with the option to work after hours and online, he didn’t think twice before clicking.

The ad prompted him to get in touch with Venus, a fake employer from a Melbourne e-marketing company, who added John to a WhatsApp group chat filled with fake employees.

The ACCC told 7NEWS.com.au it has received more than 300 reports of similar scams this year alone, recording more than $1 million in losses.

A fake employer and group of fake coworkers manipulated John into transferring his family’s entire life savings over just a few days. Credit: Supplied

An ACCC spokesperson told 7NEWS.com.au: “These scams are a mix of directly claiming to be legitimate companies and/or claiming to be working with legitimate companies.”

Venus told John that his clicks-for-commission role worked by going through the motions of shopping online, seemingly to artificially inflate online traffic statistics. The job required an online wallet, which quickly emptied, and Venus treated this as an IT problem.

John was transferred to a fake customer service contact who began instructing him to deposit his own money into the wallet, claiming he could later withdraw it, along with his commission, when the job was done.

He was given various account numbers to transfer his funds by the thousands, and watched as his online wallet appeared to “recharge”.

Over the two days, Venus reassured him that this technical difficulty was normal, while the WhatsApp group chat of “coworkers” posted fake receipts of their own deposits and withdrawals, pretending similar problems for them had been resolved.

Within days, the job was done and John’s online wallet seemingly contained the $86,000 he had deposited, plus the commission he had earned, but when he went to withdraw it, it declined.

A fake customer service operator convinced John to make a large number of bank transfers, from hundreds of dollars to tens of thousands. Credit: Supplied

John and Carol moved to Australia from India 15 years ago and English is not their first language.

The ACCC said that of the hundreds of Australians similarly scammed this year, the scams “disproportionately affected members of culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) communities”.

“Overall, more than 13 percent of losses ($9.6 million) to investment scams were from people who spoke English as a second language,” the ACCC said.

Nick told 7NEWS.com.au: “We were vulnerable at the time and we were taken advantage of.

“(Dad) didn’t know how vulnerable people could be on the internet, how people could manipulate or emotionally control you into giving away your entire life savings.

“It was my sister who pointed it out and said ‘Oh, this seems a bit sketchy’,” after his Dad’s withdrawal request was declined, and he was told to upgrade his service – for a further $30,000 – if he wanted to access his money.

At this point, John had drained his own family’s savings, as well as borrowing and depositing $30,000 from a friend who did not ask questions about the work-related loan.

“Since I moved to Australia … whatever financial hardship I faced, I never asked for a single dollar from anyone. This is the first time I borrowed money from my friends,” John told 7NEWS.com.au.

“It is a big burden on my heart.”

When asked how the family is getting by at the moment, Nick told 7NEWS.com.au: “We’re not.”

All members of the family are now desperately searching for work. They have started a GoFundMe page to try to cover their losses, in an effort to make their mortgage repayments, pay for their living expenses, and eventually pay back their friend.

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