Ben Elias was the victim of a sophisticated online scam that could have cost the ’80s playmaker a fortune, saying: ‘It could happen to anyone’.
Ben Elias was the victim of a sophisticated online scam that could have cost the ’80s playmaker a fortune, saying: ‘It could happen to anyone’.

NRL legend Ben Elias swindled out of $800K in cyber scam

It was the cyber swindle that blindsided a footy great.

Ben Elias, the former Balmain and NSW rugby league legend, revealed on Friday he was the victim of a sophisticated online scam that could have cost the '80s playmaker a fortune.

Elias - who has established a successful property business empire since retiring from footy in the early 1990s - described how an innocent business deal went wrong a fortnight ago.

Rugby league legend Benny Elias. Picture: Christian Gilles
Rugby league legend Benny Elias. Picture: Christian Gilles

The 56-year-old said he was engaged in what he thought was a simple email discussion with his lawyer over a multimillion-dollar parcel of land he recently purchased in Badgerys Creek in Western Sydney.

The "lawyer" then asked for a settlement figure of $860,000, which Elias duly transferred to a nominated bank account.

That's when the nightmare began.

"I called my lawyer and said; 'Did you get that transfer?'," Elias said.

"My lawyer then says; 'What transfer?'. I said: 'The one you asked me to deposit into your trust account'.

"Then he says: 'I don't know what you're talking about. Send me the electronic record'."

Soon after sending the receipt details, Elias said he received a phone call from his lawyer that "almost knocked me over".

"He said; 'Mate, that's not my bank account'. I just thought this can't be ­happening."

Elias was soon informed by the St. George Bank cyber fraud department that he had been specifically targeted by an individual or group - usually based off shore - who impersonate trusted business associates.

Ben Elias in action in the 1980s.
Ben Elias in action in the 1980s.

They had copied the email address of Elias's lawyer - with a slight tweak of two letters.

"They added the letters 'au' on to his name in the email address," Elias said.

Everything else about the exchange was "identical" to his communications.

"That was the scary thing. They sounded exactly like my lawyer and how he would speak in my email. Nothing seemed out of order," he said. "I try to be very careful with significant transactions so this blindsided me."

Elias immediately contacted Sydney's North Shore Police department, which referred the matter to the Eastern Suburbs Police Area Command fraud squad.

But, he said, it was the St. George Bank's investigative team that eventually helped retrieve the money just before it would have been "lost forever".

"The bank was amazing. They tracked the funds down about three hours before they would have been wired offshore," Elias said.

He said the experience had changed the way he does business and he's now hyper-vigilant online.

An Eastern Suburbs Police Area Command spokesman said an investigation was "under way".

St. George Bank's Director of Digital Security Josh Nast said "cyber criminals impersonate a legitimate person to try and trick their victim into transferring funds or making payments of their own fruition, from their own bank account to a fraudulent account" in what were called business email compromise scams.

Originally published as NRL legend Ben Elias swindled out of $800K in cyber scam


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