News : Fraudster Conned Bank Call Centres
Auckland, NZ April 1, 2015 -- An "inveterate fraudster" who scammed more than $200,000 from seven victims, including one of the country's top judges, conned bank call centre staff into giving him access to internet bank accounts.
Details of how former Napier man James David Stewart, 31, fraudulently obtained the cash can now be revealed after he was sentenced in Auckland District Court yesterday .
It was also revealed Stewart has 146 convictions to his name, a "long list" that includes 48 fraud-related charges committed since 2006.
Stewart was sentenced to nearly six years behind bars for an offending spree that took place between July and October 2013, including seven charges of accessing a computer system for dishonest purposes - ripping off seven victims of $210,541 in an elaborate bank fraud over the course of a few weeks - as well as careless driving causing injury to five people, and drugs charges.
One of the scam victims was Justice Rhys Harrison, one of eight Court of Appeal judges who preside over the second-highest court in New Zealand.
On July 15, 2013, he found his ANZ account $42,259 lighter than it should have been.
Armed with his victims' full names and details of their account and credit cards, Stewart phoned ANZ and Westpac call centres and "somehow by-passed the security processes in place", to con the customer service staff into giving him access to their accounts, Judge John Bergsens said.
"You were given sufficient access to change passwords with a telephone and internet bank account."
Stewart then set up a number of so-called "mule accounts", and transferred "significant sums of money from the victims' accounts through to the mule accounts".
"These were then immediately withdrawn," Judge Bergsens said.
Stewart, a father-of-one, withdrew $160,328 of the more than $200,000 he transferred.
The scam had financial consequences for the two banks involved, Judge Bergsens said, on top of the stress and anxiety it had caused to staff.
In a victim impact statement, ANZ highlighted the "trauma and stress for those that have been cheated by your actions", the judge said.
Staff were "persuaded by you to allow you access to accounts", he said, telling Stewart he had "conned these people".
Stewart had racked up 48 convictions for dishonesty offences since 2006, prosecutor Duncan Coleman said, "and that doesn't include the current seven that he faces in court today".
"His criminal history, together with the current offences, conservatively paints him as an inveterate fraudster," Mr Coleman said.
Stewart's previous jail terms include time for burglary and theft, as well as a 2011 conviction for accessing a computer system for dishonest purposes.
Defence counsel Gerry Skinner said his client was "very remorseful", and had suffered from a drug problem which "underpinned all of this offending".
In a letter sent to Judge Bergsens, Stewart said he felt he had "hit rock bottom", in particular to the careless driving incident, in which he injured five people, including a 17-year-old girl who now has permanent damage to her ankle.
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"You said for the first time in your life you were anti-'P', and want to make efforts to distance yourself from friends and associates that are still users, and make a better use of your life," Judge Bergsens said.
Addressing Stewart in the dock, he continued: "The reality for you is, if you don't make those changes, you're going to go through the same exercise as today except the sentence that will be imposed will simply become longer and longer and you will find you're spending the bulk of your life in custody."
Judge Bergsens sentenced Stewart to five years and nine months in prison as a cumulative sentence for all the charges he faced. He was also disqualified from driving for nine months.
Posted by Veronica Silva Cusi, news correspondent
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Published: Wednesday, April 1, 2015