Aussie loses $120,000 in 24 hours after scammers use worryingly simple tactic – and you won’t believe how the bank responded

An Australian charity worker has revealed how $120,000 was stolen from his bank account by scammers while he was camping without phone reception.

Armen Arakelian, a volunteer firefighter who works with conservation charity Back to the Bush, was on a Christmas trip near the Snowy Mountains, in NSW, when the fraudsters struck.

They ‘ported’ his phone number to one of their own devices – a process in which scammers pretend to be the phone’s owner and transfer the number to a new telecommunications company.

This then allowed them to get codes for the two-factor authentication on his account and the large amount of money was transferred in a series of 50 smaller transactions over several days while Mr Arakelian remained unaware.

When he got back to phone reception and discovered the theft, he immediately notified his bank HSBC, but he claims they asked him to sign a form saying he approved the transactions and absolved them of any liability.

Armen Arkelian camped near the Snowy Mountains over Christmas with no phone reception as scammers hacked his phone and emptied his bank account

Armen Arkelian camped near the Snowy Mountains over Christmas with no phone reception as scammers hacked his phone and emptied his bank account.

Mr Arakelian told 2GB’s Ben Fordham on Thursday that the scammers took the money from a home loan account.

“The $120,000 isn’t even in my own savings, you know, try to get somebody with that much cash, it’s all outside of my home loan credit line,” he said.

“It’s basically debt I owe the bank with interest and the bank already sent me something yesterday to say I’m late with the interest repayments.”

Mr Arakelian said he explained what had happened but the bank insisted he was ‘overdue’ and owed the money immediately.

‘There are two ways these thefts happen. Or people are defrauded where they willingly or unwillingly give out account information because they are tricked.

‘Or the other way is genuine fraud in which these are unauthorized transactions.

‘There is an e-payment code that defines who is liable in these situations and I am a victim of genuine fraud because this transaction took place without my involvement or knowledge and I did not contribute to it.

Mr Arkelian claims HSBC tried ‘unethically’ to get him to sign a document saying he did the deals.

“So that their job is easier later on to say you made them deals so we don’t pay you back,” he said.

Mr Arkelian claimed HSBC tried to get him to sign a form saying he had authorized the transactions

Mr Arkelian claimed HSBC tried to get him to sign a form saying he had authorized the transactions

When asked what his telco Optus had said about the number ‘porting’ issue, Mr Arkelian said he was ‘picking his battles’ and had his hands full with HSBC.

“At the moment HSBC is liable because these were unauthorized transactions,” he said.

‘I have never clicked on any suspicious links or given out my password.

‘I’m the last person who would fall victim to such a scam but it goes to show that everyone is at risk and you never know when they will strike.

“They hit me at noon on Boxing Day, so even if I hadn’t camped, I would have gotten up the next day and tens of thousands of dollars would have already gone.”

An HSBC spokesman said the bank does not discuss individual cases for privacy reasons.

‘HSBC takes customer security seriously, and we investigate all reported customer issues, with the outcome dependent on each set of circumstances,’ he said.

‘The bank is investing heavily in protecting our customers and playing our part in supporting the wider financial services industry on this issue.’

The bank said it has advice online and in its branches to educate customers on how to reduce the chances of falling victim to scams.

It is also working with the Australian Banking Association on industry-wide methods to fight fraud.

According to the ACCC, the particular scam is increasingly common.

A worrying phone 'port' scam in which hackers transfer your number to their device is becoming more common, the ACCC said (stock photo)

A worrying phone ‘port’ scam in which hackers transfer your number to their device is becoming more common, the ACCC said (stock photo)

‘Scammers transfer mobile services from one provider to another to steal your identity and your money. This is called mobile transfer fraud,’ the ACCC said.

Scammers can also contact your existing provider and ask to change the SIM card so they can take over your service and steal your money. This is called sim swap fraud.

‘Your service provider must follow rules to protect you from scammers. They must verify your identity before transferring your phone, mobile or internet service.’

USA Online Post Australia has contacted HSBC, Optus and Mr Arkelian for comment.