An Australian charity worker has revealed how scammers took $120,000 from his bank account while he was camping with no phone reception.
Armen Arakelian, a volunteer firefighter who works with nature conservation charity Back to the Bush, was on a Christmas trip near the Snowy Mountains in NSW, when the fraudsters struck.
They ‘ported’ his phone number to one of their own devices – a process in which scammers pretend to be a phone owner and transfer the number to a new telco.
This then allowed them to get codes for the two-factor authentication on his account and the entire $120,000 was transferred out in 50 transactions over a couple of days while Mr Arakelian remained oblivious.
When he got back into phone reception and discovered the theft he alerted his bank HSBC straight away but he claims they asked him to sign a form saying that he authorised the transactions, waiving them of any liability.
Armen Arakelian was camping near the Snowy Mountains with no phone reception over Christmas as scammers were hacking his phone and draining his bank account
Mr Arakelian told 2GB’s Ben Fordham on Thursday the scammers had taken the money out of a home loan account.
‘The $120,000 isn’t even in my own savings, you know try and find someone with that much cash, it’s all out of my home loan line of credit,’ he said.
‘It’s basically debt that I owe to the bank with interest and the bank has already sent me something yesterday to say I’m late on the interest repayments.’
Mr Arakelian said he had explained what had happened, but the bank insisted he is ‘in arrears’ and owes the money immediately.
‘There’s two ways these thefts happen. Either people get scammed where they willingly or unwillingly give out account information because they are misled.
‘Or the other way is genuine fraud in which they are unauthorised transactions.
‘There is an e-payments code which defines who is liable in these situations and I am a victim of genuine fraud because these transaction occurred without my involvement or knowledge and I did not contribute to them.’
Mr Arkelian claimed HSBC tried ‘unethically’ to get him to sign a document which said he made the transactions.
‘So that their job is easier later on to say you made they transactions so we are not paying you back,’ he said.
Mr Arakelian alleged HSBC tried to get him to sign a form saying he authorised the transactions
When asked what his telco Optus said about the number ‘porting’ issue, Mr Arakelian said he was ‘picking his battles’ and currently had his hands full with HSBC.
‘At the moment HSBC is liable because they were unauthorised transactions,’ he said.
‘I’ve never clicked on any suspicious links or given my password out.
‘I’m the last person who would be a victim of such a fraud but it shows everyone is at risk and you will never know when they will strike.
‘They struck me at 12am on Boxing Day so even if I wasn’t camping I would have got up the next day and tens of thousands of dollars would have already gone.’
A HSBC spokesman said the bank does not discuss individual cases for privacy reasons.
‘HSBC takes customer security seriously, and we investigate all reported customer issues, with the outcome dependent on each set of circumstances,’ he said.
‘The bank is investing heavily to protect our customers and play our part in supporting the wider financial services industry on this issue.’
The bank said it has advice online and in its branches to educate customers on how to reduce the chances of falling victim to scams.
It is also working with the Australian Banking Association on industry-wide methods of fighting scammers.
According to the ACCC the particular scam is increasingly common.
A worrying phone ‘porting’ scam in which hackers transfer your number to their device is becoming increasingly common, the ACCC said (stock image)
‘Scammers transfer mobile services from one provider to another to steal your identity and your money. This is called mobile porting fraud,’ the ACCC said.
‘Scammers may also contact your existing provider and ask to swap the sim card so they can take over your service and steal your money. This is called sim swap fraud.
‘Your service provider must follow rules to protect you from scammers. They must verify your identity before transferring your phone, mobile or internet service.’
Daily Mail Australia has contacted HSBC, Optus and Mr Arakelian for comment.