Farm hustle targets backpackers

Rebecca TriggerThe West Australian

It sounds like a backpacker's dream. Work on an idyllic patch of the Australian outback complete with rolling wheat fields, horse riding, organic vegetables and polocrosse.

But it was part of a bogus pitch to unsuspecting jobseekers looking for farm work in regional WA.

Popular online classifieds site Gumtree has ads for casual work at the Oranges Hill citrus farm in Manjimup, 300km south of Perth.

"Our farm is our bit of paradise," a website linked to the ads said.

"On our winter weekends, we like to go to polocrosse which is a horse sport, and we camp out in tents and a caravan. We live a simple life that we love."

The website features pictures of smiling people in comfortable shared accommodation and promises air-conditioning, heating, a barbecue, and a 20 minute walk to the local supermarket.

Irish backpackers Kieran Newton, 29 and girlfriend Aishling Murphy, 24, were desperate to secure a three-month regional stint to be eligible for a second year on their working holiday visas when they spotted the ad.

But a job offer at the citrus farm was soon followed by a request for a down payment on accommodation.

When repeated calls to the farm manager, who called himself Oliver Holmes, went unanswered, Ms Murphy contacted Manjimup police who said they had never heard of Oranges Hill.

Things then took a nasty turn.

"When we copped it was a scam, he sent back some nasty emails acknowledging it was a scam and saying he now has our names, visa details, IP address etc and would be posting nasty stuff about us online," Mr Newton, 29, said.

Another young woman who spoke to _Countryman _ said she came close to paying before alarm bells started ringing.

"When I thought I was getting it, me and my friend were excited … we had a lift organised and everything, I was going to hand in my notice," the woman, who asked not to be named, said.

An investigation by _Countryman _ revealed the image of a man standing in a field on the fake farm's webpage is actually Queensland agribusiness owner Angus Woods.

"Gee, I'm famous for all the wrong reasons," the Goondiwindi resident said.

_Countryman _ traced the bank account details given to victims to Heritage Bank in Toowoomba.

Heritage Bank spokesman Andrew Fox confirmed the account numbers were linked to an anonymous Australia Post 'Load & Go' card.

The Load & Go cards can have up to $999 transferred onto them at any time and can be used to purchase goods online or in shops where visa services are accepted.

Consumer Protection commissioner Anne Driscoll said travellers should be instantly suspicious if an employment agent asked for up-front fees to secure a job or accommodation.

"If jobseekers are asked to pay fees to secure employment, they should refuse and report the agent or their website to Consumer Protection immediately," Ms Driscoll said.

Employment agents must be licensed in WA and are not permitted to charge fees to prospective employees.

"Only employers pay for services," she said.

Consumer Protection can be contacted on 1300 30 40 54.

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