fraudster | 

Work-from-home mum blasted as 'useful idiot' by judge over her 'unwitting' role in iPhone sales scam

Palm told the Sunday World she had no idea her new job was a fraud until her account was frozen

Patrick O'Connell

THIS is the work-from-home mum who was branded a 'useful idiot' by a judge over what she claimed was her 'unwitting' role in an iPhone sales scam.

Mariska Palm (31) pleaded guilty to two counts of theft and fraud at Bandon District Court arising from the online scam in which she was recruited to advertise mobile phones on Facebook's 'Marketplace'.

Palm, a native of South Africa, later allowed her bank account details to be used by the masterminds behind the plot and was arrested when two of her customers complained to gardaí they had handed over large sums of money but never received their iPhones.

It later emerged that scammers had been behind these transactions and both individuals lost their money.

Speaking with the Sunday World, Palm claimed she had no idea her new job was a fraud until her account was frozen by the bank.

"I saw the advert for the job online - it was looking for people who wanted to work from home," she told us.

"So, I approached them and they said they would send me the photos and I just had to advertise them online.

"They said I wouldn't have to do much. I just had to tell them (the customers) that these are the people with the phone and to contact them."

Mariska said that the fraud's orchestrators had identified themselves as being part of a reputable business - something she subsequently learned wasn't the case.

"I went online and I checked this company's name and it did exist so I thought it was legitimate. They used this company's name to do this fraud."

Asked how many customers she had dealt with, Mariska replied: "I think I had 20 customers in the four days."

Of this number, two made official complaints to gardaí.

Addressing Bandon District Court, Gda Padraig Walsh explained how, shortly after Palm began working with the fraudsters, she was asked if she would issue refunds using her own personal bank account.

The fraudsters told her the person who usually did the refunds was on maternity leave and that she would also receive a commission.

"Immediately, sums of money entered her bank account on September 2 last and she was given two bank accounts from the Philippines to where she was to issue the refunds," he said.

The court heard that when she later tried to pay for her groceries she found out that her bank had frozen her account so she then went to Kinsale Garda Station about it.

Following investigations, Gda Walsh found that a Glen Carroll had reported to Ulster Bank that he paid €500 for an iPhone 12 and did not receive it, while another man, Vitali Cojuhari, paid €1,680 for two phones, but never got them.

On October 24 last, Ms Palm made a cautioned statement to Gda Walsh and said she thought it was legitimate to use her own personal bank account.

Judge Roberts said he never heard of a company funnelling money through someone's personal bank account.

"It that doesn't raise a flag of fraud and criminality, I don't know what does,' said Judge Roberts.

"She knew there was a whiff but covered her nose and she's not as innocent as you wish to make her out to be.

"There were just too many red flags here and she should have stopped, but she didn't."

Judge Colm Roberts said the facts were proven and handed her a conditional discharge for one year.

Addressing the judge's comments, Palm said she was "not happy.

"We came from South Africa to make a living and I just wanted a job at home because I have children.

"This was a whole new environment for us.

"And I have got a bad name now.

"I wasn't happy with what the judge said.

"I felt belittled.

"The way he said to me I was a useful idiot and all that stuff … it was bothering me.

"I was sitting in my car for half an hour afterwards. I couldn't drive.

"In South Africa people are not as clued up about this type of crime as people are here.

"When I was coming to Ireland, people said there's no crime.

"That's why I didn't see any red flags … not until the stuff hit the fan.

"I never made any money from this.

"I was a victim as well and that's what my solicitor tried to explain to the judge.

"Like I said to my husband, I've never even been to the principal's office, I've never been to jail, I've never been to a police station for any reason and now this happens to me!

"I asked the guards whether they thought they'd catch the people who did this to me but they said, to be honest, they're never going to be caught because they're too clued up in what they are doing.

"But after me, how many other people are caught up in a scam like this?" Palm asked.

Today's Headlines

More Courts

Download the Sunday World app

Now download the free app for all the latest Sunday World News, Crime, Irish Showbiz and Sport. Available on Apple and Android devices

WatchMore Videos