Sheila McHale

Sheila McHale

Minister for Disability Services; Tourism; Culture and the Arts; Consumer Protection

    Watchdog saves consumers millions of dollars from scammers

    15/01/2006 12:00 AM

    Western Australian consumers have been protected from losing millions of dollars in scams thanks to the Gallop Government’s WAScamNet initiative, Acting Consumer and Employment Protection Minister Sheila McHale said today.

    Ms McHale said while it was impossible to define exactly how much money had been saved by WAScamNet, a conservative estimate of saving $150 per scam reported by a consumer would mean scammers had missed out on more than $3.6million in 2005.

    The Acting Minister said that in 2005, thanks to calls from members of the public exposing the scams of psychics and clairvoyants alone, people were saved more than $75,000.

    During the year there had been 24,000 scams reported to WAScamNet at the Department of Consumer and Employment Protection (DOCEP) - a big increase on 2004, when 20,900 dodgy deals were reported.

    The worst 10 scams for 2005 were:
    • David Rhodes chain letter (pyramid scheme): The fictitious ‘David Rhodes’ claims you can turn $218 into $77,760 in the first 60 days of operating the ‘business plan’ outlined in the letter. A five cent coin is often attached to the letter to get your attention. The chain letter attracted 4,500 responses in WA.
    • El Gordo/Lotteria Primitiva (prizes): Recipients are told they have won money in a lottery and asked to provide their personal financial details to collect. They are drawn in to send money to the scammer as ‘government taxes’ before receiving their winnings.
    • UK Lottery (prizes and lotteries): Email notification tells of a major lottery win, or secondary prize, in a large European sweepstakes. This scam is like the El Gordo Spanish Lottery scam that has been circulating for many years. It works similarly to the Nigerian-style scam, requiring victims to pay fees and charges before their alleged winnings can be released.
    • Maria Rosa (psychic): Maria Rosa is a typical psychic scam, which uses threats and the promises of money to get you to hand over your dollars. She claims a dark force is directing you down a bad path and stopping you from winning $30,000. She claims her ‘tree of wonders’ in crystal and precious stones, plus her ritual, will drive away the dark force. It will cost you $62.
    • Opportunities Unlimited (prizes): This company has been bombarding consumers for the past few years with letters claiming they have received a ‘cash prize notification’ of up to $40,000. You have not won the money, just an opportunity to enter their prize draw by answering a series of ‘tests of skill’ - but you have to pay to enter ($22 upwards) and it typically takes two years or more before winners receive any money. Not that WA ScamNet or any of its contributors have heard of anyone receiving the major prize.
    • North American Award Centre (prizes): Affiliated with Opportunities Unlimited. Same ploy, same request for payment.
    • Blanche Calmette (psychics): Classic psychic scam, where Blanche Calmette claims something very strange is happening and she is anxious to do your astrological chart. The only thing she is anxious about is getting your money ($79.95 in total) and confirming your address so it can be passed on to other mail sharks.
    • National Awards Commission (prizes): Personally addressed letters tell you that you have won big money. An amount is nominated from USD$5,000 to USD$1,000,000. Again it is a sweepstake. You can also get a bonus piece of jewellery for a fee. Depending on which letter you get, you can pay $68 for a 14kt ‘gold-tone’ locket or $24.95 for a ‘high fashion star crystal’ pendant on a ‘gold-tone’ chain. WAScamNet have told DOCEP people have never won money in the sweepstake and the jewellery they received was junk jewellery. The only thing you can be guaranteed of is receiving more and more of these offers.
    • International Awards Treasury (prizes): This scam sends consumers a letter advising they are the holder of a unique $100,000 cash payment number. No money is actually won, just the chance to enter a sweepstake to win $100,000 if you send your details. As a bonus, you receive a ‘diamond’ necklace for the unbelievably low price of just $29.97.
    • Employment emails: This scam asks people to apply for fictitious job placements, where their bank accounts are used to launder money illegally gained from credit card scams and bank accounts, effectively hiding the transfer and using the consumer as a ‘money mule’.
    “Despite being found out and the public notified, some scammers continue their fraud in a slightly different way,” Ms McHale said.

    “What we are seeing is that these scammers re-invent their ploy and give it a new name - the Nigerian scam became the El Gordo scam, which has been reinvented as the ‘Princess Diana Universal Promo’ and the ‘Sir Dennis Thatcher’ bequest.

    “However, now we have WAScamNet in place, many of these fraudsters are quickly found out by vigilant consumers who contact DOCEP and warn them of the latest scam.

    “This year, we have had more than 2,000 voluntary contributors from across the State and even Eastern States and overseas, emailing WAScamNet for information and advice and to inform us of the scams circulating in their country.”

    Ms McHale said if matters related to Australian scams, WAScamNet always referred the material to the relevant home authority. Internationally-based scams (which were by far the most common) were often referred to the ACCC’s international liaison service.

    “The strategy of WAScamNet is to alert consumers quickly to the dangers of new scams circulating and give them advice on how to deal with fraudsters,” the Acting Minister said.

    Minister's office: 9222 9211