90-year-olds targeted in $270,000 scam

A 35-year-old mother has admitted her role in a bank-card scam that netted a group more than $270,000 from elderly victims.

Reiana Janine Hilton’s victims were women aged from 74 to 95.

She is already serving a home detention sentence imposed in December for her compulsive shoplifting.

Today she admitted four charges of causing loss by deception and one of dishonestly attempting to take a bank card.

Christchurch District Court Judge Jane Farish remanded her on continued bail for sentencing on May 8. She asked for a pre-sentence report with a home detention assessment and indicated that home detention may be an option since Hilton was doing so well on her current sentence.

No reparation report was ordered. Crown prosecutor Chris Lange said he was not sure that any reparation could be expected in this case.

Hilton had denied the charges but switched her pleas to guilty a few days ahead of her scheduled trial.

Her offences took place from October 2015 to January 2016.

Mr Lange explained that since September 2015 a group of offenders in Christchurch had been targeting elderly women living on their own.

They usually cold-called the victims and told them there was a problem with their power or telephone account and they owed money. Power or phone would be cut off if the issue was not resolved.

The caller – usually a male – convinces the victim to provide their PIN number and a woman then calls around to pick up their “faulty” bank card, confirm the PIN, and provide a Prezzy card as a bank card replacement.

“The woman then leaves and usually within a 12-hour period the money is systematically withdrawn from the victim’s account,” Mr Lange said. “To date, in total, there are at least 30 victims to this fraud and over $270,000 has been obtained.”

Several offenders have been caught and jailed since the police began investigating the scam.

Hilton admitted a charge involving a 90-year-old woman who told the male caller her banking details, including her mother’s maiden name. He told her not to contact her daughter. The scammers then transferred $13,000 from her account into a “mule’s” account where they could access it.

Withdrawals of about $29,000 were made from a 92-year-old Merivale woman’s account and the Crown has identified Hilton making several of them using her bank cards.

She was recorded taking money from a 95-year-old woman’s account, from which more than $3000 was taken.

She used another 74-year-old victim’s bank card to make automatic teller withdrawals. More than $4000 was taken from that account.

When police interviewed Hilton, she denied her part in the offending but confirmed she was in a relationship with a man who had some of the money transferred into his account as a “mule”.

At her sentencing on shoplifting charges in December, Judge Farish imposed five months of community work at a Hoon Hay address and ordered her to undergo assessment, counselling and treatment as directed during the detention and for six months afterwards.

That may include a residential alcohol and drug treatment programme.

Judge Farish said then that Hilton knew that if she did not make positive changes she had no chance of being able to parent her youngest children. “You have got to stop using meth,” she said.

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