Hackers Foiled in Attempt to Steal $90,000 from Church Abuse Survivor in Email Compromise Scam

By Airlie Ward
Australian Broadcasting Corporation
September 5, 2020

Steve Fisher and his partner Wanny Chaikusin were about to become homeowners when they were targeted by scammers.(ABC: Michael Brooks)

At 54, Steve Fisher thought he was finally about to realise his dream of home ownership when hackers robbed him of $90,000.

Mr Fisher had long thought he may not be able to buy a home in his lifetime.

After being abused as a young boy by an Anglican priest, the quest for justice took a toll

Mr Fisher faces a daily battle with PTSD, anxiety and depression.

This year, he reached a compensation settlement with the Anglican Church and planned to use that money to purchase a home in Tasmania's north-west.

"I was happy with the settlement and then everything went south," he said.

The conveyancing lawyer Mr Fisher used sent him an email with settlement details and an account to transfer the $90,000 to.

After he made the transfer, Mr Fisher said he received a phone call from the lawyer asking where the money was - the email had been intercepted by a hacker and the account details changed.

Real estate buyers a target for email compromise scams

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) said Australians lost more than $130 million last year because of email compromise scams.

The organisation's Delia Rickard said the hacking Mr Fisher fell victim to was known as business email compromise scams, where hackers change bank details.

"They were the number one cause of loss in 2019," she said.

ACCC Deputy Chair Delia Rickard says email compromise scams are increasingly common.(Supplied: ACCC)

Ms Rickard said the crime was becoming increasingly common, and that real estate buyers were a target.

"Conveyancing lawyers should always call and confirm, not just rely on an email," she said.

Michael Connory, who runs a research organisation which looks into cyber events in Australia and New Zealand, said he had seen business email compromises double since this time last year.

"As soon as COVID hit, March 13, we saw numbers spike and they've continued to go up since then," Mr Connory said.

In the 12 months to June this year, he said there had been a 127 per cent increase in these types of attacks, and that people were more vulnerable working from home using their own computers and WiFi.

Mr Connory said people needed to make sure they ran the latest anti-malware and anti-virus programs and secured passwords with two or multi-factor authentication.

He said people could also do regular credit score checks to make sure no-one had tried to steal their identities and request credit.

Money returned after anxious wait

Mr Fisher is one of the lucky ones.

After discovering what had happened, he contacted the two banks he had transferred the funds from and Tasmania Police.

Police traced the hacker to Queensland, even coming up with a name and address.

But when they went to the property, no-one by the hacker's name was there.

A Queensland Police spokesman said the person might not even be a real, but that an alert had been issued in case they emerged again.

The investigation into Mr Fisher's case remains open.

"We were so lucky to get the money back, it was incredible, most people don't," Mr Fisher said.

The money took four weeks to retrieve.

Mr Fisher said during that time he didn't know if it was gone forever.

"I never want anyone to feel like we did, it was the longest month of my life," Mr Fisher said.

Now happily ensconced in his unit, he said he feels like he's finally on a par with his peers.

"It's not winning the lottery, it's putting me back where I should have been if I hadn't been abused by an Anglican Priest," he said.








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