A Malaysian woman has been charged with blackmailing two grieving Australianparents for the return of a lost phone containing irreplaceable photos of their dying baby – only for the Melbourne couple to discover she never had the phone in the first place.
Siti Nurhidayah Kamal, 24, who has two children of her own in Malaysia, allegedly demanded A$1,000 (US$700) from Jay and Dee Windross in exchange for the mobile phone.
The couple believe the phone was stolen from the toilets at Chadstone Shopping Centre on April 20.
The loss came as a blow to the Windrosses, whose 11-month-old daughter Amiyah was losing a battle against an undiagnosed neurological issue she had been born with.
They made a heart-stricken plea for help to locate the Samsung Galaxy S8 with a purple cover, which contained priceless memories of their baby girl.
In a Facebook post, Jay Windross pleaded to the person with the phone: “We understand that you have either found a new phone to use, or you can sell it to make money, but please understand that this means more than money to us. This is worth life to us.”
On the evening before Amiyah died, Siti contacted the family to request for money in exchange for the return of the phone, Jay Windross said.
“This text message described serious remorse for picking up the phone and not returning it sooner,” he wrote on Facebook. “However, their condition was, they wanted $1,000 to be deposited into their account for the return of the phone … This person continued to message me into the night while Dee and I were having our final moments with Amiyah.”
Amiyah died in the early hours of April 24 at Monash Children’s Hospital, nine hours after Siti reached out to the Windrosses.
But as the devastated parents grieved, they found out that Siti had lied to them.
“They had seen our desperate situation, seen we had no problem paying a reward and used that to their advantage,” Jay Windross wrote in the same post. “Not only was it a complete and utter waste of my time, it was interrupting my final moments with my dying daughter.”
The attempted hoax sparked outrage in Australia and Malaysia.
“We Malaysian[s] are known to be caring, warm and compassionate. This is indeed shocking. I hope the Australian[s] won’t generalise we Malaysian[s] … like this,” Low Poh Lian wrote on Facebook.
“Obviously the woman is a disgrace to my community,” Malaysian Susapok Sasuke said.
Australian Georgina Rotas wrote: “I hope she cops the full brunt of the law … Karma always comes back.”
Police arrested Siti after tracking her down with the bank details she provided the Windross family, Australian news channel 9News reported.
Siti was denied bail on Monday amid fears she would attempt to flee the country.
The 24-year-old reappeared at the Ringwood Magistrates Court on Tuesday and sobbed when she was denied bail and told she would remain behind bars until her next hearing on July 8.
Siti and her husband moved to Springvale, in Melbourne’s southeast, last September. Both work as UberEats delivery cyclists to make ends meet.
Siti’s husband expressed remorse over the failed scam outside of court.
“I just want to say sorry because I didn’t know my wife did that, I really don’t have [any] idea about that,” he told local media. “We don’t have the phone. Maybe she just used that for money. That’s it. I am still sorry.”
Meanwhile, the Windrosses have had to contend with further bad news, even as they wait for the missing phone to be returned.
Less than a week after Amiyah’s death, they learned someone was trying to profit from their story by setting up a fake GoFundMe fundraiser page in their late daughter’s name.
“As if someone pretending to have your phone and trying to extort money from you when not even in possession of the phone isn’t enough. Someone is now trying to scam money from the generous people who plan on pledging their earnings in memory of Amiyah,” Jay Windross said.
“I honestly can’t believe the nerve of some people? Seriously had enough of this!”
GoFundMe has since removed the fake page.