A conman claiming to be a London businessman used Facebook to approach random Ni-Vanuatu residents of Port Vila offering them work. The only requirement was they bank with ANZ Vanuatu.
The businessman said he needed Vanuatu staff with ANZ accounts so he could receive payments from his South Pacific clients.
Once the "staff" were recruited, they were told to withdraw money being deposited into their accounts and send it on to Malaysia via Western Union. In return, they would receive seven per cent per transaction.
The money never came from South Pacific clients. Instead, it was being sourced from other local ANZ customers who had no idea their accounts were being raided.
One of those to lose money was well-known Vanuatu pilot Matt Erceg whose account was drained of US$9,000 in a single day.
"I felt ANZ had made a transfer error," he told Pasifik News. "When I rang them, they replied that I should file a police complaint."
Erceg has since received half of his money back but says he has been given no indication of when he'll get the remaining funds. "To me, it's a modern day bank robbery," he says.
He doesn't blame the Ni-Vanuatu people recruited by the fraudster. He considers them victims too because they apparently didn't know they were dealing in stolen money.
An online search indicates the con-artist simply used the identity of a man in America who has a separate Facebook profile but with the same name and photo.
What remains unclear is how the money was able to be transferred from one ANZ account to another without the authority of the original account holder. All four victims say they've never given their passwords to anyone.
ANZ has recently warned customers about a hoax email that asks people to confirm their account details, but the victims say they never opened anything suspicious.
The bank's Vanuatu Chief Executive, Charles Rickey, refused to comment on this specific case but confirmed he is aware of increasing threats.
"Bank customers need to be increasingly diligent with their personal account details, as incidences of money transfer scams and other such fraudulent activities appear to be on the rise in Vanuatu and across the region," he said.
He's urged customers to regularly change their internet banking passwords and PINs, starting today.
Vanuatu lawyer Dane Thornburgh believes there may be more than four victims and is recommending other ANZ customers check their accounts, particularly for transactions between late January and early February. If they do find discrepancies, he wants to hear from them as the victims are considering what steps they can take.
Just last week, ANZ in Fiji was charged with breaching the country's Financial Transactions Reporting Act for failing to properly verify customer identities.
The Director of Public Prosecutions says at least two accounts were opened without proper verification.
Acting CEO of ANZ Fiji Saud Minam insists customers are well protected.
"We have taken a lot of steps in terms of protecting our customer data and things that we were exposed to through some of these fraudulent activities. We have been able to fix these in a very short period of time," he told the Fiji Times.
SOURCE: PASIFIK NEWS