Queensland mother found guilty of laundering almost $22k for Nigerian scammers


Updated

September 06, 2018 14:28:00

A Queensland mother of two has escaped jail time after being duped into money laundering almost $22,000 for Nigerian scammers.

Catherine Cherry, 44, was found guilty of money laundering in the Rockhampton District Court in central Queensland on Wednesday.

What do scammers want out of you?

If they know enough about you, scammers can:

  • access your bank accounts
  • take out loans in your name
  • lodge false tax returns or BAS statements
  • claim Centrelink or other government benefits
  • access your client or employee records
  • gain access to your superannuation

Source: Here’s what you need to know to avoid being scammed at tax time

While the charge carries a maximum sentence of 26 years, Mrs Cherry was given a 12-month suspended sentence because — unlike most people engaged into that activity — she was totally unaware of what she was doing and had not profited at all.

It began in 2016 when Mrs Cherry wanted to buy a new smartphone for her daughter and an offer she saw on social media seemed too good to pass up.

“It was cheap for a modern iPhone and there was free shipping from overseas,” she said.

“It said it was from the UK town where my husband was from so we felt it was all legit — it had the store name and the photo of it.

“We placed the order and they contacted us back and said ‘it won’t be freight-free because it’s to Australia, so you’ll have to buy more goods to make up the freight price’ and it all went from there.”

Thousands in family savings sent to scammers

Over the next 18 months, Mrs Cherry incrementally sent $50,000 of her family’s savings to the scammers, who continued to send her emails with excuses about why her goods had not arrived.

“They said ‘you need to pay more money for more goods’ — then they just had so many glitches in the story, they need more money to come through customs and that sort of thing — more delays.

“Nearly every week they’d go ‘oh we need more money’ — then they’d say it was stuck in Nigeria.

“We had our little doubts but we’d paid for about five items in the end, paid for the freight, paid for so-called customs certificates so you just want to get what you’ve paid for.

“I’d had enough of it but it [was] always in my mind that we just wanted our goods, even though we’d lost a lot of money.”

Goods never received as laundering scam ramped up

Mrs Cherry never received the smartphone or any of the other goods she ordered and paid for, but the scam did not end there.

“Eighteen months after we first made the purchases he said: ‘I’ve done a job in Australia, I need to get paid, I’ll get them to transfer the money into your account and you can pay it back to me’,” she said.

“I just thought I would help him out because he said he will help me get the goods in return.

“That was the way I was bought up, to be an honest and caring person … but maybe that has caused me more harm [than good].”

Unbeknown to Mrs Cherry, the money was stolen and she was laundering it for criminals.

She saw almost $22,000 arrive into her account, she withdrew it all and then deposited it into another account — as directed by the scammers.

Confusing and frightening experience

Mrs Cherry had not realised she had committed a crime until the police came knocking on her door.

“Up until the day before the police came I was still paying money for the postage of the goods,” she said.

“They had a warrant — they were looking for a large lump of cash, they went through the house and the bedrooms.

“Then I was arrested and taken to the watch house for photos and so forth and then I was allowed out on bail until my court hearing.”

For the normally law-abiding woman who attends church and volunteers at her children’s tuckshop, it was a confusing and frightening experience.

“I was shaking for hours,” Mrs Cherry said of when she was arrested.

She found out the scammers had used her bank details to create fake invoices that were sent to legitimate businesses.

The businesses paid the invoices believing they were real but the money was actually going into Mrs Cherry’s account.

‘If it seems too good to be true, it probably is’

In sentencing, Judge Michael Burnett said while Mrs Cherry’s actions were naive, she was not alone.

“The old saying ‘if it seems too good to be true, it probably is’ should have sprung to mind when you were contacted by these people,” Judge Burnett said.

“It’s obvious to me from a number of other decisions that have been placed before me, that there are a number of other people like you in the community who are sufficiently gullible to fall for these Nigerian scams.”

Judge Burnett sentenced Mrs Cherry to a 12-month sentence, wholly suspended.

Considering the charge comes with a possible sentence of over 20 years, Mrs Cherry was relieved, despite the fact she now has a criminal record.

She has one piece of advice for people who might want to buy a cheap phone or help a foreign businessman in a sticky situation.

“Don’t do it, buy local,” Mrs Cherry said.

Topics:

fraud-and-corporate-crime,

law-crime-and-justice,

consumer-protection,

internet-culture,

information-and-communication,

human-interest,

courts-and-trials,

people,

rockhampton-4700,

qld,

australia,

brisbane-4000

First posted

September 06, 2018 13:39:51



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