Women avoid jail over 'cynical' plot to steal COVID aid

Two women who attempted to steal $83,000 from the retirement savings of strangers by exploiting a pandemic aid program have been handed two-year sentences but released on probation.

Deanne Pamela Brock and Lenore Jennifer Herlihy both faced Brisbane District Court on Tuesday having previously pleaded guilty to one count of influencing a commonwealth official.

The women, both aged 45, also pleaded guilty to two counts of dealing with identification information.

Deanne Pamela Brock (right)
Deanne Brock (right) did not financially benefit from the offending, the prosecutor said. (Darren England/AAP PHOTOS)

Crown prosecutor Clare O'Connor said the women were both principal offenders in a scheme that hijacked eight innocent people's identities to apply for $10,000 per victim via early access to superannuation.

"Only $2000 was accessed by the offenders. Brock did not receive any financial benefit from the offending ... there was no financial impact on (the victims) but there were other impacts," Ms O"Connor said.

One of the victims stated their ability to run a business had been greatly affected.

"I have spent countless hours on the phone with the Australian Taxation Office just to prove who I am ... this is how it has to be forever," the victim said.

Another victim said they now felt concern that their identity would be compromised whenever they were asked for personal details.

Brock and Herlihy used employee details from a computer that was stolen from an inner Brisbane suburb to change the contact details and bank account numbers linked to the victim's MyGov online accounts.

Lenore Jennifer Herlihy
Herlihy had shown good conduct since the offending, her barrister said. (Darren England/AAP PHOTOS)

The women then used the MyGov portal in June 2020 to apply for early access to superannuation funds under a federal government program designed to help people under financial strain due to COVID-19 lockdowns.

Prior to the superannuation applications, the women had used the identities of 14 people to set up pre-paid mobile phones and bank accounts to enable the fraud.

"The offending was cynical ... it targeted the retirement savings of innocent Australians. It was motivated by financial gain," Ms O'Connor said.

She said the scheme netted only $2000 in cash due to the anti-fraud measures at the ATO, banks and superannuation companies along with the victims noticing strange messages from MyGov.

"It wasn't for the defendants' lack of trying," Ms O'Connor said.

Defence barrister Damian Walsh said Brock had shown a good work history since being arrested.

Herlihy's barrister Colin Reid said his client had shown good conduct since the offending and her previous convictions were related to drug use at the time.

Judge Deborah Holliday said it was a borderline decision between prison and probation for the women, who had committed serious offences.

"Identity theft and access to financial assets is capable of having significant effects on (the victims) as evidenced by the impact statements," Judge Holliday said.

Herlihy was sentenced to two years' imprisonment but ordered to be released immediately on a two-year probation period with a $1000 bond.

Brock received the same sentence except her probation was reduced to 12 months due to her having spent eight months on remand for another matter.