Perpetrators of local online scams being brought to justice
A few recent convictions demonstrate that some progress is being made in the never-ending battle against online scams, particularly those in which the scammers use social media to find their victims.
Most of us think that fraudsters who con people out of money through online scams are based overseas, but a string of recent court cases shows that many are based in Australia.
The good news is that scammers are being tracked down and brought to face justice.
Lonely people vulnerable to online scams found on internet dating websites
A dating and romance scammer who fleeced $2 million from lonely men she’d met through online dating services was sentenced to three and half years behind bars.
The 42-year-old Sydney mother of four pleaded guilty to eleven fraud related offences after tricking seven victims into lending her money that she used for gambling, drugs and building a house.
Using a series of aliases, 15 phones and online dating services, she tricked men over six years into sending money, allegedly for sick relatives and funerals.
A 62-year-old Hobart woman was jailed for 18 months for conning $127,000 from a NSW man she met through a dating site. She persuaded him to send her money on 122 occasions, claiming she needed money to pursue her ex-husband for child maintenance and paying medical bills.
She spent it gambling and swindled another $200,000 from other men she met through dating websites.
Scammer who claimed to have beaten cancer through “natural treatments”
Other frauds are more public, such as that of blogger Belle Gibson, who received a lot of publicity claiming she had beaten brain cancer through so-called natural treatments.
Unfortunately, after hearing of her “miracle cure”, some cancer sufferers stopped taking medications and undergoing necessary treatments. We still do not know the full impact of Gibson’s fraudulent claims, but at least the courts have ordered her to stop.
Misleading and deceptive conduct finding against fake cancer sufferer
In early April 2017, the Federal Court in Victoria found Gibson’s company guilty of misleading and deceptive conduct and ordered Gibson to pay $30,000 for the legal costs of Consumer Affairs Victoria, which brought the case against her. (See Director of Consumer Affairs Victoria v Gibson (No 2)  FCA 366.)
If she doesn’t pay up, she could face much larger fines and even prison.
The court in Melbourne found Gibson’s company made $420,000 from sales of a book and smart phone app after Gibson falsely claimed that she had cured her brain cancer through natural remedies, despite never having the disease. The court found that she had also lied about donating a large portion of her profits to charities.
Gibson is yet to be penalised after the Federal Court found her guilty of misleading and unconscionable conduct under Australian Consumer Law.
Court prohibits further claims about “terminal cancer” and “cure”
Justice Debra Mortimer ruled Gibson is prohibited from claiming – in connection with her wellness advice and products – that she was diagnosed with brain cancer and given four months to live, but rejected conventional treatment and healed herself through natural treatments.
Justice Mortimer said that Gibson may have been under “some kind of delusion” about having brain cancer, but Gibson has not attended court to answer those questions, and neither has a lawyer representing her.
The judge found that Gibson “played on the genuine desire of members of the Australian community to help those less fortunate”.
Penalties for Gibson’s deceptive conduct are expected to be handed down in June.
Stay informed to safeguard against scams
To find updated warnings and subscribe to email alerts on the latest scams, visit the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) Scamwatch website.