A scam is reported every minute in Australia. And one of the most high profile scams happened across the North Shore and Northern Beaches…

Shockingly, Australians have lost over $92 million to scams already this year according to Scamwatch. Romance scams account for over $7 million, and despite the stereotype that it’s women falling for these sophisticated schemes, men account for 54.9% of all reported crimes (Scamwatch, 2024).

Tracy Hall with conman ‘Max Tavita’ AKA Hamish McLaren in Byron Bay. Image: supplied

The North Shore has its fair share of scam victims – and scammers, too unfortunately. Many readers will remember the crime podcast Who The Hell Is Hamish? Detailing the life and crimes of serial conman Hamish McLaren. Born Hamish Watson, the 54-year-old who grew up in Avalon is now in jail for swindling victims of more than $7 million.

Former Cremorne local Tracy Hall was Hamish’s last victim. He took off with more than $300,000 of her savings. In her new book, she shares her experience, the red flags to look out for, and why it’s so important for women to take care of their finances.

While you might think a book on this subject would be very serious in tone, The Last Victim is surprisingly funny. Case in point: “If you think writing a book sounds daunting, you should try penning a dating app bio as a divorced mum of a six-year-old who hasn’t been ‘on the scene’ since 2003.”

Tracey with Who the Hell is Hamish? podcast creator Greg Bearup. Image: supplied.

When asked about how long it took to see the funny side of her ordeal, Tracy explains: “I just think if you don’t laugh, you’ll cry. For a lot of people, humour can be used as a way to deflect emotion, but when things are really hard or traumatic, there’s a place for it too.

“The book is pretty heavy in some places where I touch on grief and coercive control, but I wanted to bright light and shade to my story. And a lot of time has passed now which makes it easier to reflect on.”

July 2017, on their final beach walk in Byron Bay. Two days later, he was in handcuffs. Image: supplied

A big part of Tracy’s life, and her past relationship with Hamish, centres around the ocean. The couple bonded over their love of the beach, and spent a lot of time in the water, paddle boarding, surfing, and holidaying at places like Byron Bay. It is fitting then that it was the ocean, where Tracy experienced a cathartic moment before his sentencing – claiming a sense of power over Hamish and her situation.

“Before his sentencing, I was feeling really down and I was really tired. I hadn’t been sleeping. I was really nervous about the outcome and of course, seeing him at the hearing,” says Tracy. “It was in the Winter, it was cold. I ran down to Shelly Beach and I just jumped into the ocean with my exercise gear on. And I just thought, ‘Stuff you. I get to do this and you don’t.’

“That was a good feeling! I thought, ‘You are where you need to be, and I get to be free to swim in the ocean’. And that’s exactly how this should play out.”

The Red Flags To Look Out For

Meet family and friends sooner rather than later

Try to meet friends and family as as quickly as you can. If you’re not meeting their friends and family, it’s very hard to validate the things that they’re talking about or they are who they say they are. Another thing that I encourage people to do is if you haven’t met the person in real life yet, do reverse image search.

Conduct a reverse image search

A relatively simple one is reverse image searching their photo using Google images. I just accepted Hamish’s name was Max Tavita because I saw mail addressed to that name, and there was nothing that made me think otherwise. But had I searched his photo in Google, it would have come up as Hamish McLaren and Hamish Watson, which would’ve, of course, set off huge red flags.

Tracy with her mum and daughter Asha in 2016. Image: supplied

In terms of investment scams, operate within a regulated environment. Which means don’t give money to a friend to invest in something, go find yourself a financial advisor, a licensed financial advisor, and look them up on the ASIC registry.

Check their digital presence

If somebody doesn’t have a digital presence, that’s a massive red flag. It’s 2024, and if you can’t find them anywhere on the Internet that’s a problem. It’s one thing not to have a Facebook account or a social media presence, but it’s another thing not to have a digital anything on the entire internet.”

Take a beat

Many scams rely on a sense of urgency. And often avoiding them, just requires more thought, taking a breath, taking a beat, talking to friends and family about what you’re doing, and doing your own research. Women really need to protect their financial security, because it gives us choices.

Be Bold

We work so hard for our money, and everything’s so expensive, but we can end up giving it away too freely, especially if we don’t ask the right questions and take control of our finances.

I think, if I just had just asked two more questions or if had I pushed harder for the logins for the self managed Super he’d ‘set up’ for me, I couldn’t prevented it. I was too trusting, and thought he’s busy, he’ll get to it. But I was not bold enough to say, “No, I need them now.”

TIPS TO AVOID INVESTMENT SCAMS

  • Check for credentials on the ASIC website
  • Make sure all accounts are in your name
  • Ensure you get logins + regular reports
  • Obtain a Statement of Advice
  • Ask: Is it too good to be true?
  • Stay in a regulated environment
  • Talk about what you’re doing to friends
  • Check for complaints

TIPS TO AVOID TARGETING SCAMS

  • Don’t click on the link or open the attachment!
  • Ask or check for proof
  • Unsure if it’s legit? Google it.
  • Set up 2-factor authentication
  • Educate yourself via scamwatch.gov.au
  • Scan for urgency/ authority
  • Don’t hand out personal information
  • Ask: Is it too good to be true?

TIPS FOR DATING

  • Use facecheck.id
  • Look for a digital footprint
  • Meet friends/family
  • Get curious

The Last Victim by Tracy Hall and Summer Land is available now through Hachette.

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