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How a fraudster broke into bank accounts with simple mobile phone ploy

Ric Stevens,
Publish Date
Mon, 15 Apr 2024, 9:32pm

How a fraudster broke into bank accounts with simple mobile phone ploy

Ric Stevens,
Publish Date
Mon, 15 Apr 2024, 9:32pm

A fraudster stole $50,000 after getting a new SIM card for the victim’s phone number and using it to unlock their bank accounts.

Casey John Burtt Smith entered a 2degrees shop in January 2021 and requested a “replacement” SIM card, which gave him control of a phone number belonging to another person.

He then tried to log on to that person’s Westpac bank accounts online, getting the portal to send a temporary password to the compromised phone number.

This gave him access to two accounts belonging to the victim, and he made a number of transfers, obtaining $50,000.

Details of Smith’s fraudulent dealings in that case and several others are included in his unsuccessful bid to have a term of two years and three months in prison reduced by the High Court.

The sentence was imposed by Judge Mina Wharepouri in the Manukau District Court in December last year, in relation to two separate groups of dishonesty offending.

The first related to Smith obtaining, or trying to obtain, thousands of dollars by making dozens of bogus applications to the Ministry of Social Development for Covid-19 wage subsidies or support schemes.The second was for money laundering and fraudulently accessing other people’s bank accounts and taking money out of them.

Smith pleaded guilty to a number of charges, some representative, of using a forged document, dishonestly using a document, and money laundering.

The High Court decision said that between April 13, 2020, and April 21, 2022, Smith dishonestly submitted 43 applications to the Ministry of Social Development for Covid wage subsidies or support payments.

Nineteen were in his own name and 24 were in the names of other people he did not know, but using their real personal details and Inland Revenue numbers.

Five of the applications were successful, and a total of $26,946 was paid into Smith’s bank accounts. The other 38 applications were rejected by MSD. Had they been successful, they would have netted him more than $207,500.

About $14,000 of the money Smith did receive was put into a bank account he opened in the name of another person, but for his own use.

To open that account, Smith used a driving licence taken from a wallet that had been stolen and “doctored” it by putting his own photograph on to it.

In January 2021, Smith applied for a loan of nearly $16,000 from the Heartland Bank to buy a BMW vehicle.

He again used a bogus driving licence in the name of another person and uploaded a selfie video to the Heartland Bank’s online portal to verify his identity.

Smith was foiled when Heartland Bank contacted the person whose identity he had taken, who said he had not applied for a loan, meaning the bank was able to stop Smith drawing down any funds.

However, the following day, Smith used the same forged driver’s licence to reopen a Westpac bank account belonging to that person.

In June 2021, Smith was sentenced to 12 months of home detention for a number of dishonesty offences.

These involved using stolen credit card and bank account details to make purchases and buy overseas currency and gift cards, benefitting to the tune of $39,472.

He used another fraudulent driving licence to book a room in a motel.

That offending was separate to the frauds that earned Smith the jail term in December last year.

But he cited it when he appealed against his prison sentence, saying that the judge had included in the jail term crimes for which he had already served home detention.

High Court Justice Andrew Becroft said that he did not consider that the home detention sentence followed by the prison sentence, when added together, produced a sentencing result that was disproportionate to Smith’s offending as a whole.

Smith also argued that Judge Wharepouri had been wrong to say that his offending was a “breach of trust” in the context of the Covid-19 subsidy scheme.

A “breach of trust” usually relates to someone abusing a position of trust or authority in relation to a particular victim.

Justice Becroft said that trust had been breached in Smith’s case also.

“My view is that the method adopted by MSD in making assistance available to qualifying applicants during a national pandemic, when there was a crisis faced by employers and employees, and relying simply on a written application that was hard to verify, was indeed a ‘high trust’ model,” Justice Becroft said.

“Any deliberate fraud in that situation was quintessentially a breach of trust.”

Justice Becroft dismissed Smith’s appeal against his jail sentence.

Westpac and 2degrees were approached for comment about the method Smith used to access his victim’s accounts.

2degrees said in a statement it was continually strengthening its processes to prevent SIM fraud.

Since 2021, it had introduced additional requirements, and now insisted that people produce two forms of ID, including a photo ID, when they came in to get a replacement SIM.

It also required the account PIN number and, if people could not provide that, 2degrees asked questions about recent activity on the phone.

“This is proving to be a very effective way to reduce risk, and we will continue to both review these processes and educate customers about cybercrime.”

Ric Stevens spent many years working for the former New Zealand Press Association news agency, including as a political reporter at Parliament, before holding senior positions at various daily newspapers. He joined NZME’s Open Justice team in 2022 and is based in Hawke’s Bay. His writing in the crime and justice sphere is informed by four years of front-line experience as a probation officer.

This story was originally published on the Herald, here

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