Mireille Appert with her uncle, John Appert.
Mireille Appert with her uncle, John Appert. Contributed

How Blackbutt homeowner lost $150K to international scammers

A SWISS woman living in the United States is set to lose almost $150,000 after a Kingaroy law firm was allegedly hacked by online scammers.

Mireille Appert, 67, inherited the home at 17 James St, Blackbutt, from her uncle, John Appert, who died in 2014.

"As I was very close to him and he knew that I loved Australia, I was surprised to know that I inherited his house and belongings," she said.

In 2018, Mrs Appert decided to sell the home and contacted Kingaroy law firm, KF Solicitors, to help complete the $148,554.11 transaction.

"I wasn't able to afford a vacation home in Australia anymore. Flights, maintenance, rates, electricity. A lot of fees to pay, for not being able to enjoy my house as much as I wanted," she said.

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Mrs Appert's son, Alexandre Matti, said his mother had been fighting for five months to retrieve her money.

"The worst and most difficult (thing) right now for her is knowing that she should have approximately $150,000 in her bank account, but instead, she tries to deal every day with debt collectors and financial struggle."

Mr Matti said the United States Secret Service was investigating the fraudulent wire transfer, which he believed was the work of "Nigerian scammers".

In July last year Mrs Appert began an email correspondence with KF Solicitors, which included sending her bank details via email.

A fortnight later, she received an email from KF Solicitors requesting her bank details, which she said she had already sent twice, and then sent a third time.

According to Mrs Appert, the funds bounced, and she received an email from KF Solicitors asking her to once again confirm her bank details.

 

The home at 17 James St, Blackbutt, that Mireille Appert inherited from her uncle, John.
The home at 17 James St, Blackbutt, that Mireille Appert inherited from her uncle, John. Contributed

On August 1, KF Solicitors emailed Mrs Appert confirming the sale and the wire transfer, however she never received the money.

Mr Matti believes the scammers accessed the money using a fake transfer authority, and as a result the conveyancer with KF Solicitors transferred $148,554.11 to a company that had no association with his mother.

In a letter written to KF Solicitors, Mrs Appert said nobody called her to confirm her banking details.

"It's because you sent the money to that company that my bank can't do anything for me because I'm not connected to this account or company," the letter said.

On August 10, Mrs Appert received an email with an allegedly fake wire confirmation and the wrong account number.

"This is when we knew we had a problem," she said.

KF Solicitors allegedly attempted to then put a hold on the wire transfer.

"At that time, we knew the office got hacked and that some emails that we got and that you (the firm) got, were sent by fraudsters," the letter said.

On August 27, Mrs Appert received a copy of the first wire transfer that bounced, which reportedly had her name on it but the wrong bank account number.

"If I had gotten this confirmation on August 1, none of this would have happened," she said.

"Your office got paid, the real estate agent got paid, the buyer has a house, and I'm here without any help and with no money," the letter to the law firm said.

"I sold a house, I didn't get paid, and I feel like nobody cares."

Mrs Appert said she just wanted to receive the money which was rightfully hers.

"I had to give my car to my bank, I already spent more than $1000 in fees - phone calls, lawyers, late fees to my bank account etc - and financially and emotionally, it's really difficult for me.

"I want to know that someone takes this seriously and understands the issue this has caused me.

"I did nothing wrong during the whole process, this is not my fault, but I feel like I'm the only one trying to make it right," she said.

"I feel alone and abandoned."

KF Solicitors director Andrew Kelly said the incident was the subject of a claim, and it had been passed onto their insurer.

"I'm prohibited from discussing it," he said.

"But there definitely has been an email fraud that has been committed."

The United States Secret Service has been contacted for comment.

TIMELINE OF EVENTS:

July 1: Mrs Appert contacted KF Solicitors, seeking assistance to complete the transaction.

July 8: KF Solicitors emailed all of the necessary paperwork. Mrs Appert printed it out, signed it in front of a public notary and sent a copy of the documents back to KF Solicitors.

July 10: KF Solicitors confirmed that everything was correct.

July 10-14: Mrs Appert's son, Alexandre Matti, flew from the US to deliver paperwork KF Solicitors needed to complete the sale.

July 16: Mrs Appert received an email requesting her bank details.

July 18: Mrs Appert received an email with information needed to make the transfer, which read, 'The sellers [sic] authority just needs to be emailed back to us and not posted'.

July 19: Mrs Appert emailed an electronically signed PDF with her bank details.

July 22: Mrs Appert sent the exact same document, with a handwritten signature, and the same banking information. She received an email that same day confirming the information had been received and that a transfer would be arranged following settlement.

July 31: Mrs Appert received an email from KF Solicitors that the buyer wanted to move the settlement from August 2, to August 1, and that the law firm still needed her bank details. Mrs Appert replied the same day, saying she had already sent the details twice, and then sent them a third time.

August 1: KF Solicitors emailed Mrs Appert confirming the sale and the wire transfer.

August 3: KF Solicitors emailed Mrs Appert, asking her to confirm her account name and banking details because the funds bounced back. Mrs Appert replied the same day, confirming her details.

August 6: Mr Matti, Mrs Appert's son, called KF Solicitors and received verbal confirmation that NAB was making the transfer again.

August 6-10: Mrs Appert tried calling and emailing KF Solicitors several times because the money never appeared in her account.

August 10: Mrs Appert received an email with an allegedly fake wire confirmation and the wrong account number. Mr Matti called KF Solicitors asking about the confirmation. According to Mrs Appert, KF Solicitors told her son they never sent that wire confirmation, and that they sent the money to 'Kristal Contractors LLC'. KF Solicitors allegedly attempted to put a hold on the wire transfer.

August 11: Mrs Appert reported the incident to US police, including the scammers now reportedly having a copy of her passport and personal information.

August 13: [South Burnett Ekka Show Holiday] KF Solicitors was closed.

August 14: Mrs Appert was told by her bank that the scammers accessed the money on August 6.

August 27: KF Solicitors emailed Mrs Appert a copy of the first wire transfer, which had her name on it, but the scammer's bank account.

South Burnett


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