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Swindler dupes woman in her 90s into thinking she'd won $350,000 lottery on Facebook

Craig Kapitan,
Publish Date
Thu, 4 Apr 2024, 8:53pm

Swindler dupes woman in her 90s into thinking she'd won $350,000 lottery on Facebook

Craig Kapitan,
Publish Date
Thu, 4 Apr 2024, 8:53pm

An Auckland man who helped swindle two businesses out of tens of thousands of dollars with decoy invoices - as well as an elderly Facebook user who was duped into thinking she had won a $350,000 lottery - has been sentenced to home detention, but with a warning that he’ll be headed to prison if it happens a third time.

Robert Gordon Sands, 60, appeared for sentencing today in Auckland District Court after having pleaded guilty last year to three counts of money laundering. It is the second time he’s been accused of participating in scams, having received a discharge without conviction out of Manukau District Court for similar offending in 2019.

He faced sentences today of up to seven years’ imprisonment for each money laundering charge, but defence lawyer Jonathan Loh argued his client had also been a victim who was roped into helping a stranger online via a love scam.

The first con for today’s sentencing involved a $30,000 invoice that a drainage work subcontractor emailed to Goodwin-Austin Construction in July 2020. The email was intercepted online and the Auckland-based construction firm instead received a similar-looking email from the scammer with different payment instructions, court documents state.

The company paid the money into Sands’ TSB bank account instead. Sands then forwarded the money to another bank account that does not appear to have been controlled by himself, according to the agreed summary of facts for the case. But after some more transfers back and forth, he ended up with about $5000 for himself, according to the agreed summary of facts for the case.

Three days after the sham invoice, the construction company and the contractor realised what had happened. The constriction company’s bank was able to recover $19,200.

Four months later, the same construction company that had been victimised sent two invoices for $60,000 to property developer Jayasharee Ltd, and this time it was the property developer that was fooled by a decoy invoice. The property developer contacted the bank as soon as it was realised they were paying into the wrong bank account, but by that time the bank was only able to recover $2000.

The third incident occurred in March 2022 after a 75-year-old Canterbury resident’s Facebook account was hacked and used to contact a 94-year-old Facebook user also from Canterbury.

The 94-year-old was told she had been selected as a winner for a $350,000 lottery but needed to pay a $3750 fee to collect the prize. She paid the money into Sands’ bank account.

“Within the same day, the defendant withdrew $3750, transferring the money into an unidentifiable account,” court documents state. “[The elderly victim] never received the winnings.”

The woman’s bank was able to recover the full payment, but Sands still owes $28,000 to the property developer and $10,800 to the construction firm. He has recently started a job as a truck driver and is able to pay $50 per week in reparations, his lawyer said today.

Defence lawyer Loh pointed out that Sands has been assessed as having a lack of consequential thinking and problem-solving skills. He emphasised that his client was also a victim, suggesting that Sands made no profit off his involvement - swayed by a woman online who had asked for help after professing a relationship with him.

Sands himself was the victim of a scam involving “somebody who was professing a relationship with him and asked him to help”

Judge Nevin Dawson, however, was less charitable in his assessment.

“You’ve caused a substantial loss,” the judge said. “You claim you made nothing out of this but there’s no proof...”

The judge noted that his Manukau District Court counterpart had given Sands “a very clear” warning when he received a discharge without conviction.

“It’s frankly unbelievable that you... did not know what you were doing,” he added of the most recent offending. “You’ve expressed remorse. I suspect some of that remorse is for your own personal circumstances.”

The judge started Sands’ sentence at 18 months’ imprisonment, but allowed it to be reduced down to 11 months’ imprisonment when factoring in his guilty plea, remorse and his lack of prior convictions. The prison sentence was then converted to five months’ community detention, along with 80 hours of community service and 18 months of intensive supervision.

The judge also offered some parting advice before Sands was allowed to leave the dock.

“It’s important you listen,” he said. “If you are back here on similar charges you’ll go to prison - it’s as simple as that.”

Craig Kapitan is an Auckland-based journalist covering courts and justice. He joined the Herald in 2021 and has reported on courts since 2002 in three newsrooms in the US and New Zealand.



• Cert NZ: Individuals, small businesses can report a cyber attack, get advice.
• Financial Markets Authority.
• Privacy Commissioner: Complaints about privacy breaches. 0800 803 909 or online.
• ID fraud: Department of Internal Affairs advice.
• IDCare: Backed by the Ministry of Justice and its counterpart in Australia. Assistance freezing credit records, regaining control of online identity after an ID theft.
• NZ Police: Report cybercrime online scams, online child safety issues.
• Department of Internal Affairs: Report spam, banned content, child exploitation.

The article was originally published on NZ Herald, here

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