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PONZI TYPE SCHEMES RIP OFF MILLIONS FROM THE ELDERLY

Anne and Michael Burniston moved to Perth from Britain six years ago to enjoy retirement with their grandchildren, but now they have lost their life savings to an alleged fraudster.

They are among dozens of investors duped by promoters of five get-rich-quick ‘Ponzi’ schemes that have pulled in more than $100 million in Western Australia over the past two years, police say.

WA Police and the state’s consumer protection commissioner issued a joint warning about such sham investment schemes, which often entrap vulnerable elderly people.

The warning follows the recent arrests and charging of two alleged swindlers who police say took nearly $10 million from investors in Perth’s south in separate so-called Ponzi schemes.

A 39-year-old man from Rockingham allegedly received $3.5 million from 13 unsecured investors, while a 50-year-old Canning Vale woman allegedly reaped $6 million from 24 investors, much of it from elderly pensioners.

Consumer Protection Commissioner Anne Driscoll said a hallmark of Ponzi schemes was the unusually high interest offered.

People were attracted to the high returns and felt secure when they received early dividends, and so they invested more and encouraged friends and relatives to invest too, she said.

“But of course it’s a complete sham, and over time it just folds with nothing left, and people have lost hundreds of thousands of dollars.”

Potential investors should always get a second opinion from an accountant, lawyer or licensed financial adviser not involved in the scheme, Ms Driscoll said.

Advice is too late for the Burnistons, who trusted a “financial adviser” with their money and have lost $285,000 and are set to lose their house.

“We came out here six years ago to have a really good life with the family and the grandchildren, and it’s been absolutely devastating. We’ve lost absolutely everything,” Mrs Burniston told reporters.

The former nurse is not only angry with the adviser, who has now been charged, but with a bank for allowing a loan application from the adviser to go through without checking it with them.

The Burnistons found it falsely stated they were “self-employed property consultants” when they are in fact a retired couple in their mid-60s on a combined income of only $29,000 a year.

Mrs Burniston said they had trusted the adviser who had arranged a mortgage for their daughter.

Senior Sergeant Don Heise of the Major Fraud Squad said that despite public warnings, detectives continued to receive new complaints from unwary investors.

“We regularly see victims who have sadly lost their entire life savings as a result of these schemes, and our aim is to prevent it from happening to others.”

Senior Sergeant Heise said the returns promised by such schemes were too good to be true, from 15 per cent into the twenties.

The maximum penalty for Ponzi-style frauds is seven years in WA.

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