If I was making a list of people I thought would be likely to fall for a financial scam, Jacomi Du preez would have been at the bottom.
She’s smart and savvy.
She’s a Vice President of Risk and Assurance in a huge company, having worked in finance for decades after qualifying with honours in commerce and accounting.
(How do I know this? I worked with her in late noughties, over a decade ago. She impressed me.)
When I learned Jacomi been sucked into a scam and lost $760,000 from her husband’s life insurance, I nearly fell off my chair. It just seemed soooo unlikely.
Turns out it was a devilishly well-staged scam.
First, it was for a term deposit.
We’re all used to hearing people getting ripped off through romance scams, Ponzi schemes, or having their crypto wallets hacked.
But… a term deposit??? That’s so innocuous. So safe. So… boring.
For the uninitiated, term deposits involve parking your cash for a specified period (usually months to years) to get a better interest rate than you’d achieve through a standard saving account.
Most financial institutions offer them, even though they’ve recently gone somewhat out of fashion thanks to low interest rates.
Second, the rate was *just slightly* higher than the market.
…but not so high as to raise any alarm bells.
No promises of doubling your money here. It was a measly 2.5 per cent compounding interest offered.
If you look at Canstar’s April 2022 comparison, a quick scan will tell you that’s a little higher than the best 12-month deposit rates (1.92 to 2.10 per cent) and a little lower than the best 24-month deposit rates (2.50 to 2.80 per cent).
So, it’s not implausible.
Third, the brand and identity theft was top-notch.
I’m guessing Google led her to a site mimicking Macquarie’s own. The news report states the scammers used cloud-based systems that enabled them to appear at the top of the page’s ads.
The process Jacomi went through to initiate contact was the same at the real Macquarie process, as it involved filling out a ‘Request a call’ form.
The person who called Jacomi checked out when she looked him up on LinkedIn – but of course, it wasn’t really him. The scammer had just been meticulous in choosing a real finance professional to impersonate.
Yes, there were red flags. But, they were very well hidden and Jacomi was very unlucky to get taken in.
This highlights something we often forget:
When we’re stressed, we’re not in peak decision-making form.
Stressed is actually not a fair term for what Jacomi was likely going through. ‘Once-in-a-lifetime grief tsunami’ might be more apt.
The money was her husband’s life insurance. He died in a car accident less than six months ago when they and their kids were relocating from Perth to Melbourne.
So, Jacomi’s been through an interstate move, is grieving her husband and is now raising two teenagers alone in a new city.
When the insurance money for her husband came through, she was seeking at least some benefit on the cash – given inflation just clocked in at 5.1 per cent, that’s not surprising. In fact, it’s quite smart.
Having recently experienced intense grief myself, I now understand why the common advice is not to make any major decisions for at least 12 months. You’re simply not as sharp as you normally are, and therefore more prone to mistakes that we’d otherwise catch.
This is not cause to berate yourself. It’s a reasonable reaction.
Thank goodness it looks like it will end well. Jacomi’s auditing skills helped her track down the transfer and convince the financial institution the cash was with to freeze it, so she’s likely to get it all back.
What can you do to prevent this happening to you?
If you’d like to increase your chances of avoiding being taken in by a scam, please head to Scamwatch and follow their tips.
In addition to what’s listed there already and specifically relating to finance scams, I would add:
- When making decisions in times of stress, recognise that you might be more likely to make a mistake. Don’t rush anything. Seek a second opinion to sense-check any major decisions or actions. Check, then re-check before you transfer anything. Basically, be extra-cautious.
- Be conscious of interception scams. Call the person you’re supposed to be transferring money to, to verify you have the right BSB and account details. If Jacomi had done this by calling Macquarie’s customer service centre, the crisis may have been averted.
- If you have cryptocurrency, consider cold storage. This keeps your crypto offline so it’s harder to hack. Given the general malaise about helping victims of hacking, this may be your only protection option.