Joanne McDonald will find it hard to trust again following her ordeal.
Joanne McDonald will find it hard to trust again following her ordeal.

Wanted woman stole my identity


After a chance meeting, Joanne's new 'friend' took both her money and her trust

YOU'LL have to forgive Joanne McDonald if she seems a bit paranoid.

But you would be too if someone had stolen your driver's licence from under your nose, assumed your identity and then taken you to the cleaners.

The Coffs Harbour mother-of-two will probably never recover from the shock, which has led to panic attacks and trips to the doctor.

One thing's for certain ? her faith in humanity won't be restored any time soon.

Joanne's extraordinary tale begins at a bridal show in Melbourne back on February 12, when she was promoting Fiji's Amunuca Island Resort.

She noticed a well-dressed woman looking at her stand, and they began to chat. The woman, probably aged 30 to 35, introduced herself as Jodie from Queensland, and said she was a sales and marketing manager for a jeans company.

She realised Joanne, too, was away from home, and invited her for coffee.

Jodie, whose sparkling jewellery included diamonds in each fingernail, said she was down for the funeral of her uncle, slain underworld figure Mario Condello, but she had nothing to do with the family.

She also said she had units (and boyfriends) in Melbourne and Queensland, and travelled frequently.

Jodie suggested they catch up for dinner, and Joanne accepted.

They dined in Lygon Street and Jodie paid Joanne's way into a Crown Casino nightclub where she shouted their first drink.

They went their own ways at 1am and Joanne left a message on Jodie's mobile phone, thanking her for a great night.

When Joanne arrived at the Virgin Blue check-in for her flight home, she noticed her driver's licence was gone.

She initially thought she'd dropped it outside her hotel, and hope someone would hand it in.

Five days later, she got a new licence, but when she did her internet banking the same day, she discovered all her money ? $4000 ? was gone from her account.

The Commonwealth Bank told Joanne someone had rung them the morning before, claiming to be Joanne McDonald, that she'd forgotten her password and asked for it to be changed.

The bank told this woman she first needed to state her full name, her full address, her phone number and her date of birth. The woman met the identification requirements, and had the password changed ? she was in.

The woman moved money from Joanne's visa account to her savings account, later walked in to a Commonwealth Bank branch in Melbourne (investigators now know she was wearing a wig to resemble Joanne's blonde locks) and withdrew the entire $4000 over the counter.

"I thought someone had picked up my licence and sold it on the black market to this person who had stolen my money," Joanne said.

Banking industry fraud investigators were called in, and 10 days later, Joanne's bank reimbursed her.

But two months later, Joanne was gobsmacked to find history repeating itself.

In an incident which she's still not sure is linked to the first fraud, her wallet containing her new driver's licence and bank card was stolen from either her car or her home on April 19, and $900 was stolen from her account. She reported it to Coffs Harbour police.

"I just couldn't believe it. I was beside myself," Joanne said.

"I'd travelled the world and had never lost anything, but within three months, I'd been hammered on two occasions.

"I felt insecure and violated."

About three or four weeks ago, national news articles began to appear about a conwoman who had been assuming the identities of other women before raiding their bank accounts.

The one Joanne stumbled upon quoted police saying she was believed to be a 32-year-old from Queensland called Jodie, and was wanted for questioning in NSW, Victoria and Queensland.

The penny dropped big time ? this was the same woman who had charmed Joanne in Melbourne back in February, and it was now apparent she had stolen Joanne's driver's licence when she wasn't looking.

Joanne also remembered Jodie had long hair when they first met, but shorter hair that night.

"I was so stunned. I rang detectives in Melbourne and told them I had been a victim of this woman," she said.

"It's very nerve-wracking, especially when I'm in Melbourne or Sydney. I wonder if she's around somewhere close by.

"You tend not to trust people anymore, and that's hard, because I'm a friendly person.

"What has happened to me shows you've just got to be so careful. All she had to do was steal my driver's licence to take all my money and turn my life upside down.

"When you lose a driver's licence, you wouldn't think to cancel or change everything."

Joanne has now boosted the proof of identification arrangements on her bank accounts.

But she'll probably always find herself anxiously checking and rechecking her handbag to make sure her cards and her driver's licence are still there.

"This woman needs to be caught and made to realise what she's done to people. How would she like it if it happened to her?" Joanne said.

Her message is a dire one ? 'Be aware of people'.

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