It might surprise some to know a 56-year-old beneficiary from Gore played a vital role in an international cyber-crime syndicate.
It was a shock to her, too.
Sandra Gay Murdoch was sentenced to six months’ community detention and ordered to pay back $12,319 she unwittingly laundered, when she was sentenced in the Gore District Court last year.
However, following a recent appeal, Justice Gerald Nation, before the High Court at Invercargill, found there was no way the woman could return the cash, and cancelled the reparation order.
Reflecting on her only brush with the law, Murdoch told the Otago Daily Times the experience was “very horrible”.
The woman said family and friends had turned against her, thinking she was capable of involvement in the sophisticated online scam.
“I can’t even fix my own computer if it goes haywire,” Murdoch said.
It began when she started communicating with a man through a dating website in 2017.
The mystery romancer would not speak over the phone but showered her with compliments.
“With me being lonely and looking for a partner, I thought it was great,” Murdoch said.
After a couple of months, he asked for her bank account number and she thought little of it.
In September 2017 though, more than $7000 was paid into her account by a North Island man, then a month later $5000 from a horse-racing company.
Unbeknown to Murdoch her online-dating match was part of a fraud syndicate, probably based overseas.
He and his associates were involved in what is known as a “business email compromise” scam where they had hacked a business website and changed bank details on invoices so payments by debtors went to a money mule.
Murdoch was that mule.
As instructed, she withdrew funds from her account and sent them to Malaysia via Western Union.
Her counsel Jono Ross stressed Murdoch had not profited from the venture and was certainly not the criminal “mastermind” behind the operation.
In fact, the defendant had made a net loss of $58.79, he told the court.
Netsafe chief executive Martin Cocker said the style of scam was something Netsafe was “https://www.nzherald.co.nz/”definitely well aware of”.
It usually came from international hackers buying a database of stolen passwords, gaining access to a business’s email system then manipulating the invoices sent out.
In the last year, an estimated $23 million was lost to online scams, Cocker said.
It was a relief to Murdoch that she no longer had a huge reparation sum hanging over her.
“I can’t afford it. I’m scrimping and saving each week just to pay bills,” she said.
The fiasco had, however, permanently dashed her hopes of finding love.
And it was not the first time she had been targeted online.
“All I seem to find on these dating websites are similar people,” Murdoch said.
“They start chatting and saying nice things …
“https://www.nzherald.co.nz/”Then it’s ‘can you send me money? I’ve been beaten; I’ve been robbed’. Some of them are quite persistent.”
Murdoch still has to serve several months of her community-detention sentence, which was suspended while her appeal was considered.