Melbourne woman loses $46K in Apple iTunes gift card phishing scam

By @chelean on
A woman holds up an iPad with the iTunes U app after a news conference introducing a digital textbook service in New York January 19, 2012.
A woman holds up an iPad with the iTunes U app after a news conference introducing a digital textbook service in New York January 19, 2012. Reuters/Shannon Stapleton

A 74-year-old woman has lost more than $46,000 on Apple iTunes gift card scam. The Melbourne resident had been swindled by what appears to be an international group of scammers in just seven days.

Earlier this month, the unnamed woman from Hawthorn was called by a man claiming to be from a major telecommunications company. He told her that she was a scam victim and that they needed to access her computer and online banking account remotely to fix the problem.

The scammer said that they had deposited money into her account to “help fix her security.” The woman then apparently had to withdraw the money they had deposited and sent it using MoneyGram to various bank accounts in India. Following the scammer’s instructions, the victim also bought more than 330 iTunes gift cards from major supermarkets and retail outlets, and then sent their codes over the phone.

“The offenders made transfers of cash between the victim’s three bank accounts in order to confuse her and make it look like the balance of her account was increasing,” Yarra Crime Investigation Unit’s Detective Senior Constable Cameron Mitchell said. “The victim believed she was transferring the telco’s money to the overseas account when in fact it was her own. It has been a traumatic experience for the victim and there is a message everyone can take from this.”

Mitchell said the woman would have lost more money had a retail worker not notice her unusual bulk iTunes purchase and how much money she was carrying. The worker contacted the police.

“We are trying to get the message out to potential victims but also to retailers,” he was quoted by The Age as saying. “If it wasn’t for that store intervening, this could have been much worse.”

Another victim, 80-year-old Perth resident Jenni Woodroffe, also complained of being scammed using iTunes gift cards. The hearing-impaired pensioner said two “plausible-sounding” men contacted her by phone to demand payment in iTunes voucher for an alleged Centrelink debt.

Woodroffe told the ABC that she thought the call was genuine because she heard there were recent changes to Centrelink benefits. She followed the scammers’ instructions to buy dozens of the iTunes cards from various supermarkets and relay the codes to them using her mobile phone.

She bought $1,500 worth of vouchers on the first day, another $2,000 the following day and then $500 the next day. She was also warned not to speak to anyone about it.

This type of scam is called phishing, which is the malicious practice of contacting victims and claiming to be from reputable companies in order to make the individuals reveal their personal information. The Australian Cybercrime Online Reporting Network (ACORN) urges the public to report such scams at its website, www.acorn.gov.au. Those who have information about the scam are also asked to contact Crime Stoppers at 1800 333 000.