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Aussie brothers tackle $2.1m bill scam issue after father swindled

When Shendon and Simon Ewans’ retired father clicked a link on a fraudulent bill that was emailed to him, and then became infected with malware that cleared out his bank account to the tune of $8300, his sons knew there had to be a way to prevent it from happening in the future.

“Eventually I recovered the money and I reclaimed my bank account and phone number,” says their father Stephen, 69, whose mobile was also hijacked in the process.

simon-and-shendon-ewans-of-gobbill-image-www-scamsfakes-com

“[But] it took almost six weeks. The stress, anxiety and inconvenience was terrible.”

Having already built a platform to ensure people paid bills on time in order to avoid late fees and secure on-time payment discounts, the two siblings put their heads together to devise a plan to conquer the problem their father had fallen victim to.

A former advisor in innovation and commercialisation for the University of Melbourne and National ICT Australia (now CSIRO Data61), Shendon — along with his brother Simon and co-founder Quentin Marsh — have just recently put the finishing touches on their start-up, Gobbill.

Their system lets customers forward all of their bills to the service, which then checks for fraudulent and suspicious bills and ensures that payments are made on time. Due diligence checks are done in this process before any funds are transferred to target organisations. The purpose of such checks — which weed out “spoofed”, or faked, email addresses and corroborate the identity behind billing details, among other steps — is to protect customers from paying fake bills or invoices.

According to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, there were 9294 reports of email billing fraud reported to the agency in 2017. Email billing fraud accounted for $2.1 million in reported losses.

Meanwhile, snail mail fraud accounted for $207,000 in reported losses and 865 reports.

‘Chronically under-reported’

But ACCC deputy chair Michael Schaper suspects the figures are just the tip of the iceberg.

“It is widely expected that billing fraud is probably chronically under-reported,” Dr Schaper says, referring to consumers who don’t have the time to fill out scamwatch.gov.au fraud reports, are too embarrassed to do so, or are small business owners who are afraid that reporting a scam might affect their liability insurance premiums.

“How much under-reporting [is occurring] we don’t know,” Dr Schaper says, adding that many consumers and small businesses don’t know whether they’ve been scammed as they don’t cross-check their credit card or bank statements.

“A good scam is one where six months later you’re not sure if you got that stationary you paid for or not,” he says. “The perfect crime is one that nobody knows that they have fallen victim to.”

Preying on vulnerable Australians, especially the elderly, scammers have in recent years been posing as billers from well-known companies such as Telstra, Origin Energy, AGL and others.

One of the most sophisticated was an ANZ-branded email notifying customers their statement was ready to access. When the ‘View statement’ button was clicked, it launched the download of data-stealing malware onto the victim’s system, allowing data and funds to be pilfered.

According to Shendon Ewan, 5 in 100 emails analysed by Gobbill are detected as fraudulent.

When Gobill first started in 2015, it was 1 in 100.

“The detection rate is growing steadily,” he says, as crooks capitalise on the trend of paperless billing.

“The scams are becoming more prevalent”

Mr Ewan says that originally Gobbill was only designed to help people pay bills on time.

“Then my father got done by the scam,” he says, “and it shifted our focus to think about the fraud aspect.”

Gobbill is free for consumers, while small businesses are charged a fee.

For tips on how to avoid scams, visit ScamWatch.

www.crimefiles.net

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Henry Sapiecha