The Versace and Prada clothes seemed a little lavish for a teenager. Then there was the Louis Vuitton luggage, the limousines, the penthouses overlooking Sydney Harbour. How on earth could a 14-year-old schoolboy afford this celebrity lifestyle, his mother wondered.
She found out that her son was masterminding an eBay scam that had netted him A$200,000 (£130,500) – and that Australia's big four banks were helping him launder the money by allegedly showering him with bank accounts and debit cards.
Neither the boy nor his mother can be identified for legal reasons, but details of the bizarre case have emerged from documents lodged with the New South Wales Supreme Court. He was arrested at school after his frauds were linked to an IP address attached to a classroom computer.
The woman, who lives south of Sydney, is seeking damages from the four banks – the Commonwealth, ANZ, Westpac and National Australia Bank – and an apology for "unconscionable conduct".
The boy sold non-existent items on eBay, the online auction site, at one stage earning more than $6,000 a day. His mother's suspicions were aroused when he began booking penthouses costing $4,300 a night and hiring limousines to go to the beach.
He also flew friends around Australia for weekend parties in rented luxury apartments, and paid for beauty sessions for his female friends. "There I was, a single mother of two, desperately struggling to put food on the table," his mother said. "He, meanwhile, would stroll in after feasting at the latest fancy restaurant of his choice and chuck me leftovers in a plastic tub."
A log book she found solved the mystery. It detailed "thousands of dollars worth of transactions with eBay customers, all of whom had deposited money into his bank accounts for non-existent laptops, mobile phones and watches".
The boy's mother said she repeatedly contacted the banks, warning them that he was a minor who was depositing illegally gained funds and begging them to stop giving him accounts and debit cards. They ignored her or refused to discuss the matter, citing privacy concerns, she alleges.
The boy, now 19, opened his first bank account with the Commonwealth, with the help of a friend who claimed to be his guardian. "He was an intelligent boy who worked out how to cheat the system and play it for all it was worth," his mother said.
According to her, he also defrauded the banks. "He began placing small amounts of cash on his many debit cards, followed by instant large withdrawals. The flaw in the system is that you can go $1,500 overdrawn before they shut down the account. He didn't care. The moment one got closed, it was his cue to open another. It became an addiction."
In an effort to halt his behaviour, she contacted teachers, doctors and counsellors as well as the banking ombudsman and financial watchdogs. "But each time, I was told the only people who could end this madness were the banks. To this day, they refuse to acknowledge it was their accounts being used to launder money, and their overdrafts to commit more crime."
Since 2007, she has handed over her son to the police 15 times, with the boy spending numerous spells in juvenile detention. At bottom, he was an "insecure boy out to impress", she said. Now that he no longer had money, most of his so-called friends had disappeared.
All four banks said they would defend themselves against the allegations.Reuse content