Scammed: Georgina Masters admitted in court that her actions in dealing with the cash were ‘reckless’ and that she should have known the money wasn’t legitimate.A lonely grandmother who unwittingly helped her online“fiancee” carry out a$100,000 phishing scam that defrauded a retiree of his life savings has been sentenced to six months’ jail.
Georgina Masters, from the Illawarra,believed she was in a committed relationship with an Africanman named Joseph Trimblewhen she agreed in February 2017to let him use her bank account for a series of moneytransfers.
She told police the pair had connectedon Facebook and spoke on the phone daily, but had never met in person. Still, she said Trimble had confessed his loveand planned to move to so they could marry.
So Masters said she didn’t hesitate when Trimble initially asked her to accept a stranger’sdepositof $15,000into her account.
He then had her send him the cashvia international money transfer, telling her the funds would be used forbuilding projects in South Africa.
She later told investigating police there were seven transactions in total worth a combined $68,500.
She admitted having concerns about the authenticity of the moneybut didn’t act on those concerns.
“I honestly thought he loved me…I trusted him,” she told police, but admitted her actions had been“reckless” and that she shouldhave known the money was not legitimate.
In fact, it would later become apparent that Masters was the third person to have been duped by the same elaborate scam–and the second to have done it for love.
A police investigation revealed the $68,500originally belonged to a Wagga Wagga retiree who fell for a fake email, purportedly from his lawyers, advisinghim to deposit $100,000 into their trust account to finalise his purchase of an investment property.
The money instead went to a bank account owned by Western n man Agustino Bellombra.
As it happened, Bellombra,had recentlyfallen for a mysterious woman named Angela Robert, whom he’d met on adating website.
Just days before the $100,000 landed in his account, Bellombra had been contacted by Robert who claimedshe had been detained by the Belgian government while in the country to collect a sizableinheritance.
She said herbank accounts had been frozen and she needed money for a lawyer.Bellombra responded immediately, selling some of his personal belongings to send her funds.
Like Masters, he too did not hesitate when his online “lover” then asked him to act as an intermediary in monetary matters.
He agreed to accept transfers for her and gave her his bank details. A few days later the $100,000 from the unsuspecting Wagga retiree landed in his account.
Bellombra then followed Robert’s directions where to put the money–including depositing $68,500 into Georgina Masters’ bank account.
The remaining cash was filtered overseas via international money transfer.
The extent of thefraudcame to light after the Wagga retiree discovered he’d been scammed and reported the matter to police.
Detectives connected the dots and subsequently raided Master’s Unanderra house in June 2017, seizinga vast quantity of evidence including transaction receipts, bank statements and hand-written notes
Masters was eventually charged withdealing with proceeds of crime to which she pleaded guilty in court on Friday.
Defence lawyerMatt Ward said the case was unique and described Masters as a“cog in the wheel” of a much larger, well organised fraud circle.
“It’s a cog that needs to be there for the scam to work…but she had no knowledge of the original scam [involving the $100,000],” he said.
“She accepts she’s done a horrible thing to someone she doesn’t know at all.”
Mr Ward confirmed Masters had also transferred $10,000 of her own money to Trimble, which she would never see again.
“She’s received no financial benefit from her actions and now she finds herself in this position,” he said.
In imposing thesentence, Magistrate Michael Stoddart said the matter was a serious one that warranted full time jail.
He also questioned what led Masters to think the scam was legitimate.
“Where does common sense come into the equation?” he said.
“Surely common sense would tell you there’s something wrong with this…now there’s an unfortunate gentleman in Wagga who has lost his life savings.”
Masters was taken into custody but released a short time later after lodging an appeal against the sentence and receiving bail.
The appeal is expected to be heard in Wollongong District Court in late March.
The Illawarra Mercury