Australians among those allegedly scammed out of about $120,000 in fake Bali villa swindle

Australians among those allegedly scammed out of about $120,000 in fake Bali villa swindle
  • PublishedMarch 23, 2024

Chris Slade was promised a great return for a modest investment in property with someone he thought was a friend.

For years, he had wanted to buy in Indonesia and was saving for a house.

So when he met Putry Thornhill, an Indonesian local, in Bali and she offered the chance to invest in a “villa” leasing in Badung, he jumped at the idea.

Her pitch — invest $66,000 to go halves in a villa, and he would soon be earning $1,300 a month.

“[I] decided that a villa like this would be a good start,” Mr Slade told the ABC.

“She promised it would be paid off in 12 months maximum, and then in two years there would be a profit.”

A man and woman sitting on a ferry holding drinks.
Chris Slade (right) with Putry Thornhill — someone he thought was a friend before being ensnared in another of her alleged cons.(Supplied)

Mr Slade said he asked for a couple of days to think about the offer.

The next day, Ms Putry messaged him saying she had paid the deposit to secure the property.

He wasn’t the only person lured in by the accused con woman.

‘I completely trusted her’

Alana Cayless was also convinced to invest in two “villas” in Perenan, Bali, by Ms Putry.

“I knew it would take approximately a year to make our money back then the last two years would be purely profit,” she said.

Ms Cayless said she only had photos of the villa and didn’t have the contract when she agreed to invest.

“I asked to go and see the villas before sending money but she said if a Westerner goes to the villa to look at renting, they will put the price up — and we believed her,” she said.

“I completely trusted her,” she told ABC.

It was only after Ms Cayless transferred the money in September that Ms Putry “went distant”.

“You start doubting yourself going, ‘Is this legit?'”

Long haired woman smiling next to a woman in ponytail, both holding drinks.
Alana Cayless (left) confronted Putry Thornhill after allegedly being scammed by her.(Supplied)

Contract was never signed

Mr Slade said he had signed what was supposed to be the agreement between him and Ms Putry in May last year.

But, he said, Ms Putry never signed it, despite him “messaging constantly” to ask about it.

By July last year, after he had transferred about $33,000, it became difficult to contact Ms Putry.

A paper containing typed text in what supposed to be a villa contract.
Chris Slade said he never received a signed contract from Ms Putry despite ‘messaging constantly’ to ask about it.

“She was sending me excuses daily, she had told me she was sick and in hospital, which was for two weeks with vertigo,” he said.

Mr Slade said Ms Putry said she would take care of the “villa” through an agent.

“I asked multiple times for the contact details of the agent and never received them,” he said.

Ms Cayless kept asking for a financial statement related to the villa, which showed its address.

“Once we had the address, my friend went to them and there was nothing there,” she told ABC.

“By this time I knew the villas weren’t really there.”

Ms Cayless sent Ms Putry a message asking to be paid back.

“She agreed, apologised, and started sending money,” Ms Cayless said.

So far, she has been reimbursed about $9,000 out of more than $30,000 that Ms Putry owed her.

Mr Slade has received $2,800 from Ms Putry.

In addition to Mr Slade and Ms Cayless, the ABC has spoken to others who have claimed they have been scammed by the same person.

Emma Amanda, a US citizen, said she had lost about $31,700 to Ms Putry’s villa investment scheme.

She’s not not received any money back yet.

putry arrested screenshot
The NSW police promised to arrest Ms Putry as a response to a luxury bag fraud report.(Supplied)

Meanwhile, Canadian Rebecca Lussier-Roy said she had transferred about $26,000 to invest in a “furniture company” business offered by Ms Putry.

“She told me that I would get my money and the profit back in maximum two months and even earlier if she could do it earlier,” she said.

“I was able to ask her to send some money and just to keep me quiet she sent over twice about $US632 ($953) using the account under the name of Derviana Mutiara — which is her nanny,” she told the ABC.

Altogether, those who spoke to the ABC have sent more than $126,000 to Ms Putry.

In 2021, NSW police responded to complaints Ms Putry was engaged in the suspected fraudulent trading of luxury handbags.

They said “the person of interest fled the country in August 2020”.

“The matter will be closed, and the person of interest will be arrested if she ever returns to Australia.”

The ABC understands Ms Putry travelled to Newcastle last week, and has been staying in an Airbnb about 30 metres from a police station there. 

Ms Cayless has contacted police to inform them, according to emails seen by the ABC.

Putry denies villa scam 

In an interview with the ABC, Ms Putry, who is known as Prima Putri Ratnasari and Prima Putri Thornhill, denied all allegations of scamming.

“If I cheated, I would have disappeared, but I still communicate with those people,” she told the ABC.

“If it’s called scamming, it means that I took away the money, I didn’t return a penny, but here I have agreements with them to return it back.”

The ABC has asked her to provide proof of the repayment agreements.

According to Ms Putry, one of the people down to invest in the villa backed out.

“But I have allocated the money to buy the villa … so since I couldn’t refund it entirely, we agreed the refund would be made in multiple payments,” she said.

“This one person then heated up the others, so they also cancelled the agreement.”

She said she never offered the investment option, but that people had chased her wanting to get in on the villas after she had told them what she was doing.

“They initially asked ‘what are you doing for business’ and after I explained it, they were interested in half-half investment with me because of the affordability factor,” she said.

‘Don’t be afraid to make a report’

Mr Slade and Ms Cayless contacted the Australian Federal Police (AFP), NSW and WA police — where the complainants live — Border Force and Interpol.

They said the AFP and WA police wouldn’t take their statements.

Calls to other police forces rang out, they said.

When the police forces were contacted via email, Mr Slade and Ms Cayless said they were asked to report to the matter to the AFP, who wouldn’t take their statement in the first place.

They have also filed a report to the ACCC’s Scamwatch and Border Watch, which is run by the Department of Home Affairs and allows people to “to report suspicious or illegal immigration, visa, customs and trade activity”.

They said they had not received any responses.

“We had a lot of information to share but nobody wanted to look at it which was really frustrating,” Mr Slade said.

A room with table, lights, mirror, and a pool outside.
The inside of the villa Mr Slade said Ms Putry had offered as an investment opportunity.(Supplied)

Ms Cayless said she felt like she had been “sent in roundabouts”.

She said it had been “extremely frustrating and disheartening” that Ms Putry could still freely enter Australia “because she knows the police won’t do anything”.

Ms Putry’s alleged villa investment victims contacted the ABC after seeing a 2020 ABC Indonesia report naming her as being the suspected scammer behind a fake luxury handbag swindle.

The ABC asked NSW police how the investigations into both alleged scams, involving the luxury handbags and the villa, were proceeding.

“The matter remains under investigation by Newcastle City Police District and there are no updates at this time,” a NSW police spokesman told the ABC.

Ms Cayless and Mr Slade said they had not reported the alleged villa scam to the Indonesia police, but said they had their reasons for not doing so.

The Bali Regional Police said since 2023, they have received seven reports of alleged fraud around villa rentals, and one report of suspected villa investment fraud.

“It’s possible that the number is more than that, but not reported,” Commissioner Jansen Avitus Panjaitan, the head of public relations of Bali Police,” told the ABC.

Mr Panjaitan appealed to foreigners who felt they had been the victims of fraud to come forward.

“Don’t be afraid to make a report,” he said.

He said foreigners can also report suspected crimes through their country’s representative offices.

“For example, in Bali there is an Australian Consulate, there is an AFP bureau whose cooperation is very good with the Bali Police.”

The ABC has also contacted the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC).

Although it has limited jurisdiction over direct property investment, it has some advice on its Moneysmart website about investing in real estate overseas.

DFAT also provides advice on scams that can target Australians when they are travelling, and what they can do if they are hoodwinked while abroad.

SOURCE: ABCNEWS

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