Scammers target ‘vulnerable’ in Cockburn

COCKBURN residents have been swindled out of $1.28 million by scammers in Africa since May 2012, according to data gathered by anti-fraud authorities.

Worst hit were residents between the ages of 50 and 64, with victims handing over more than $761,000.

But close to half of all victims were from the 30-49 age category.

Consumer Protection’s market analysis manager Lynne Gould said fraudsters often preyed on vulnerable people suffering through a family member’s death, divorce or ill health.

“Scammers may reach more people affected by these things if they aim for the 50-64 age group,” she said.

“People in that group may have more life savings, may have sold a business in preparation for retirement and may have a lot of equity in a house.”

The data was gathered as part of Project Sunbird, a partnership between the Major Fraud Squad and Consumer Protection that monitors money flowing out of WA to countries like Ghana, Sierra Leone and Nigeria.

Sunbird started as a police initiative in late 2011 and officially launched as Project Sunbird in mid-2012.

In four years, Perth residents are believed to have put more than $37 million into the accounts of overseas criminals pretending to offer romance or investment opportunities.

Ms Gould said when a potential scam is identified, authorities are quick to notify victims.

Most people stop after the first warning, but others need to be convinced.

That means more warning letters and detectives travelling to homes for one-on-one chats.

Officers say the experience is similar to that of telling someone a loved one had died.

“Victims are emotionally and financially devastated,” Ms Gould said.

“Some realise they have lost everything and cannot retire comfortably anymore.”

Consumer Protection tips:

Be wary of random social media requests for friendship or romance, sob stories and requests for money.

Scammers can use a range of props to convince the victim they are legitimate, from sending flowers and gifts to inventing other family members and friends.

Scammers frequently promise to meet the victim but never show. They will often pledge to arrange another visit all financed with funds from the victim.

Project Sunbird – Cockburn figures:

$1,283,671: the sum of money sent to Africa from residents in Cockburn. 68 per cent came from males, 32 per cent from females.

46 per cent: the percentage of local victims from the 30-49 age category.

$333,866: highest amount sent by an individual male sender.

$152,244: highest amount sent by an individual female sender.

Hamilton Hill (13.6 per cent), Yangebup (10.2 per cent), Success (9.5 per cent) – Percentage of Cockburn victims via suburb.