Tracy Hall fell victim to a global romance scam by conman Hamish McLaren. This is her warning

Tracy Hall fell victim to a global romance scam by conman Hamish McLaren. This is her warning
  • PublishedJune 10, 2024

‘Looking back, it is obvious.’

Tracy Hall’s jaw dropped.

Eyes wide, she watched a video in an online news report of her long-term boyfriend being arrested out the front of his Bondi Beach apartment and dragged away in handcuffs by police.

It was July 2017 and her beau was about to face serious fraud charges.

“All I kept thinking was this was a mistake,” Tracy tells 7Life of the arrest that unravelled decades of schemes and lies.

“$317,000 … that’s how much he took, from my savings, my super, shares … everything.

“It’s funny because it took me 16 months to fall in love with him and just 24 hours to fall out of love.”

Tracy Hall is — as she titled the book she wrote about her experience — The Last Victim of conman Hamish McLaren, or as she knew him, Max Tavita.

At the end of their nearly two-year relationship, Tracy discovered McLaren had swindled more than $7 million from 15 unsuspecting victims — herself included.

While McLaren was facing the courts, Tracy began unpicking their relationship in an attempt to make sense of the manner in which she had been scammed, and in the hope of preventing others falling victim to similar cons.

“It was early 2016 when I first met a man called Max on a dating app,” Tracy says.

She was a busy single mum who had a successful full-time career, and Max was a CFO at a family business — or so he claimed.

But, while they instantly connected, their busy lifestyles meant they built their connection over time.

Tracy and ‘Max’ on holiday in Byron Bay before his arrest.
Tracy and ‘Max’ on holiday in Byron Bay before his arrest. Credit: Supplied

“It was a slow burn,” Tracy says.

“We spoke multiple times a day and just got to know each other.”

Tracy had just come out of a marriage 12 months before meeting Max and, now in her 40s, she was in no rush to settle down again.

But after connecting with Max, she says she felt as though she had “met her person”.

They opened up, sharing details of their lives, and Tracy says Max did not seem to be obviously hiding anything, although he did not have a social media presence.

That didn’t concern Tracy at the time but now she sees a lack of any online footprint as suspicious.

Tracy was in a 16-month relationship with serial conman Hamish McLaren.
Tracy was in a 16-month relationship with serial conman Hamish McLaren. Credit: Supplied

However, their relationship blossomed and soon the pair were enjoying getaways together.

She recalls a work tip to Byron Bay, in northern NSW, but instead of the pair flying from Sydney together, Max opted to drive the eight-hour trip alone.

Again, she did not think anything of it.

“Looking back it is an obvious red flag, because I would have seen his ID,” Tracy says.

“But at the time I was just looking at how supportive he was being, coming to see me present at a conference.

“He said he didn’t want to fly, if he drove we would have more flexibility, we would have a car, our surfboards, he could pick me up.

“The whole time I was just thinking, ‘Wow, what a great guy’ but really he just didn’t want me to risk seeing his real name.”

Cash talks

The Sydney mum says during their dates it wasn’t unusual for Max to take work calls — conversations involving topics such as the price of gold along with general trading chatter.

Tracy says there were also conversations about her personal finances and her superannuation account.

Tracy had no idea the man she was dating stole over $7 million from multiple women.
Tracy had no idea the man she was dating stole over $7 million from multiple women. Credit: Supplied

“It was normal and casual comments — one every few months,” she explains.

“General things like, ‘Oh your super account is ripping you off, you could do better’.”

Eventually conversations turned to moving Tracy’s super into a self-managed fund, an easy money-saving move which Max offered to help her set up.

After a few months of research, with Max’s “help”, she withdrew her savings, closed her super fund account and cashed out her shares.

And Max supposedly opened up a self-managed super fund in Tracy’s name.

She then deposited a total of $317,000.

Tracy is now sharing how she fell victim to a romance scam to help others.
Tracy is now sharing how she fell victim to a romance scam to help others. Credit: Supplied

Only the cash didn’t land in her account, instead it went straight to Max.

“It was over 20 years of my super I had been saving,” she adds.

Tracy was none the wiser at the time and didn’t give any more thought to her new self-managed super fund.

But then, on that seemingly normal day in July 2017, Tracy couldn’t contact Max.

“I spent all day trying to get a hold of him but nothing,” she says.

“At night I started to get worried and began hunting his friends and family down on Facebook and messaging them.”

After hours of radio silence, Tracy phoned Bondi police and asked them to do a welfare check.

“I was so worried, I couldn’t sleep,” she says.

At 5am a close friend sent her a link to an online news story.

Before Tracy opened the link, her first thought was, “They have found him dead”.

Instead, Tracy watched police storming Max’s house and handcuffing him.

The mum says she spent the three weeks following his arrest untangling Max’s web of lies.

After discovering McLaren’s true identity, Tracy soon found out she wasn’t the only one taken for a ride.

But after McLaren fleeced $7.6 million out of 15 unsuspecting victims over six years, Tracy was the last.

Tracy discovered her boyfriend’s real identity 16 months after they began dating.
Tracy discovered her boyfriend’s real identity 16 months after they began dating. Credit: Supplied

Taking back control

In June 2019, McLaren pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 16 years in jail.

This was reduced on appeal in 2021 to a maximum 12-year sentence with a minimum of nine years.

While Tracy breathed a sigh of relief at his harsh penalty, she quickly realised she would never see a cent of her money.

“I thought somehow I would get my money back, some money at least,” she says.

But she did not see her $317,000 again.

It has taken Tracy years to comprehend the 16 months of her life that McLaren stole from her, let alone her retirement fund.

“I was just so betrayed on every level,” she says.

“Trust is really interesting because afterwards I didn’t trust myself, like how could I have let this man in my life, how could I not see the red flags?”

She urges individuals to not be embarrassed if they have been scammed, as each story told helps stop another following in their footsteps.

“I am highly educated, switched on, well-travelled,” she says.

Tracy is now sharing her experience and encouraging women to take charge of their finances.

SOURCE: 7NEWS

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