When Patricia spoke to her daughter over the phone on a Saturday morning, everything had seemed normal.
They had a long video call over the course of breakfast and said their goodbyes.
But when she got a text from a mystery number a short while later, things had gone wrong.
Patricia’s daughter had dropped her phone in the toilet and had lost access to all her banking details.
And she needed money urgently to pay a bill by midday.
Patricia’s daughter was not sending these messages. They were being sent by a scammer.
Patricia said the messages referenced personal details like house renovations and how stressed her daughter had been, making them more believable.
“It was almost as though someone had heard our conversation on WhatsApp because of the things she said after that,” Patricia said.
The scammer asked Patricia and John to pay an invoice for a new kitchen, promising to pay back the money by 9pm.
Under the pretence of renovation payments, the Perth couple initially sent through $12,899.99 to an account with a major bank branch in Perth’s CBD.
The scammer received the payment, sending love hearts and thankful emojis.
Two minutes later, they were asking for more money.
John raised his daily payment limit in order to send more money, flagging fraud concerns with his bank.
A second payment of $10,278.99 was stopped by John’s bank Westpac, who informed the couple they may have been victims of a scam.
Westpac informed the couple they had notified the other bank involved, but no funds from the first payment have been recovered so far.
Scams becoming an unfortunate ‘way of life’ for Australians
More than 1,150 Australians have fallen victim to the “Hi Mum” scam, with a huge spike in cases this winter.
Australians were defrauded of a total reported $2.6 million in the first seven months of the year alone.
Experts estimate that unreported scams could have the figure even higher.
Cybercrime expert Simon Smith said dealing with scams was becoming a daily occurrence for Australians.
“It’s almost like it’s a way of life at the moment, it’s gotten worse actually,” Mr Smith said.
He said technology had made it easier and cheaper than ever before for scammers to send out SMS messages to hook potential victims.
“Over the years the technology has gotten cheaper — certainly with SMS spamming — you can send SMS’s pretty cheaply, almost free online,” Mr Smith said.
“It’s a numbers game for the scammers. They send out 100,000 SMS’s and if they get 0.001 per cent it’s a pay day for them.”
Deputy chair of the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission (ACCC) Delia Rickard said scammers seemed to be targeting older Australian women.
“Over two-thirds of the family impersonation we’ve seen, the victims were women over 55,” Ms Rickard said.
“They play on that familial relationship, and that’s what families do, they help each other.”
How to protect against scammers
While experts said some scammers purchased information or stole it through identity theft, they said it was also common for thieves to use less sophisticated methods of gathering information, such as by using personal information posted online.
Mr Smith said people should be more aware of the information they shared publicly on social media.
“Everyone wants to say ‘look at my new couch’ or ‘look at my baby running around with a brand new pair of sneakers’,” Mr Smith said.
“People don’t realise when they put their life on internet that it’s fair play for scammers as well.”
Ms Rickard said people could also take steps to ensure they were talking to the people they thought they were.
If a relative was unreachable by phone, trick questions could be a good strategy to out scammers, she said.
“Ask them ‘how’s the dog doing?’ when you know they don’t have a dog,” Ms Rickard said.
But while trick questions and increased vigilance are useful for preventing future scams, options are far fewer for victims who have already been scammed.
Chances of recovering stolen funds are low
Ms Rickard said that the chances of a scam victim recovering their funds was low.
“It’s not great. You can try with your bank but it’s not great,” she said.
John and Patricia have reported the scam to WA Police and the Australian Financial Complaints Authority, and said they were yet to receive a response from the bank they transferred the funds to.
With no idea of whether the issue will be resolved, Patricia and John are beginning to worry about the future.
“We’re in the dark, we’ve lost quite a lot of money,” John said.
“I’m looking at retirement in the near future, and this is not good.”