In an astonishing act of fraud and betrayal, Melissa Caddick lured family and friends to her financial business with the promise of flush returns. Instead, she fleeced them of their nest eggs to fund a $600,000-a-year life of harbourside houses, luxury cars and ski trips.
Following the drop of a new Underbelly series, two of her victims share their stories with marie claire.
HELEN* is a widow who worked in education. She entrusted her entire superannuation to Caddick. She was 68 when she discovered her money was gone.
“A friend of mine had invested with Melissa, and it came up in conversation that they were doing well financially.
Throughout my life I have spent large amounts of money on getting medical help for my family – my husband had a traumatic injury and my children suffered from chronic illnesses, including cancer. I’ve also had cancer, and I have a heart condition. I was glad I had money to help my family, but I was nearing retirement and didn’t have a large super balance. I transferred my super – $475,000 – to Melissa’s company. She visited me once a year.
The monthly reports looked completely normal to me: the right logos, the share price, a description of the current world economy, and showed how my superannuation fund was making about 10 per cent in a low-risk investment scheme.
Melissa was empathetic and interested in me and my problems. She was horrified to learn I had been widowed at the age of 52. Horrified to learn that my children had serious health problems. She would empathise and say, “I’m going to help you recover financially.” She was someone I thought
was on my side – and so I trusted her. She also told me personal things, like the problems she’d had – and was still having – with her first husband.
These are things you do not expect your financial adviser to be sharing. When I was hospitalised after a fall in 2020, I was in desperate pain and needed operations. Melissa was so supportive. She seemed kind and gave what seemed like very good advice: “Don’t worry, contact me any time. If you need money for any medical expenses, just let me know – you’ve got plenty of money there.”
So I retired from the job that I had held for more than 20 years.
Later that year, an ASIC agent phoned me [after ASIC was told that Caddick was using someone else’s financial services licence]. They questioned me about Melissa, and I said, “Oh no. Everything’s above board with Melissa. I’ve got all the documents.” I thought it couldn’t possibly be true that she had done something fraudulent. It shows how much I had been sucked in by her.
Then in November, I saw in the paper that ASIC had raided her [house] and she had disappeared. But I was more worried about her than my money. I knew she lived near The Gap [a suicide spot in Sydney] and I was worried the investigation had made her jump. I finally knew something was wrong when my accounts were frozen through my association with Melissa.
And not just the super account, my personal accounts and credit card as well. I was standing in a lunch shop trying to buy a sandwich and none of my cards would work. It was a feeling of utter desperation. My mental health was bad, particularly around Christmas. One of my daughters went to my GP and said, “Mum’s got to see a counsellor.” I saw a wonderful psychologist, who helped me a lot. Some months after, I tried to get another job. But I was 69, I didn’t even get an interview. That’s when I had to say to my children, “This is hopeless.”
I’m very fortunate that my children were prepared to give me money to live on and continue to do so. One even borrowed money under her own name
to give me. This was very humiliating but I am so grateful. I will probably have to sell my home and move to something cheaper. I’ve lived in this house for 30 years: where I lived with my husband, where we raised our children.
My advice is to not develop a personal relationship with your adviser. I wasn’t a close friend of Melissa’s, but I trusted her and we shared things. And she seemed very kind to me. I still wonder how she could do such a thing. How could she ruin people’s lives and not feel guilty or care about the consequences for those who trusted her? She is out of my sphere of contemplation. She not only did this to me, but also to her parents and her brother. The only thing that could be worse for me was if Melissa was my daughter, and I had to deal with the way she had treated people so badly.
I hear they’re making an Underbelly series about Melissa’s crimes [Underbelly: Vanishing Act airing now on Nine Network]. I don’t think I’ll watch that.
Today it’s still pretty hard. I had hoped that I would have something to leave my children. Instead, I am taking from them. I don’t know what I’d do if my family weren’t being so good to me.”
SUE* is a professional who lives in Sydney with her partner. She invested almost $1 million with Maliver after family members recommended Caddick.
“I knew Melissa Caddick; she was a family friend. But before I invested with her, I checked everything that she had been doing. She seemed legitimate. I knew her and trusted her.
We invested our superannuation with Melissa. In the first two years, when I was paying attention to everything she did, the documents Melissa sent showed that we got 3, 4 per cent returns. The most we ever got was 11 per cent. Then after that we were like, “Yep, it’s going OK. It’s fine.” Then there were times when she was showing us 25 per cent returns. But it was believable because she said she bought us Afterpay stock, which performed very well.
Every time I raised a question or wanted to see something, she had a document. They looked like carbon copies of other official documents I’d seen. She was a master of cutting and pasting. She always had something prepared. And because I didn’t know any different, I didn’t think anything of it.
I’d ask questions and she’d smirk at me like I was stupid. She’d correct me if I didn’t use the right term. That was her way of putting you in your place. She had to be the smartest person in the room.
As time went by, we could see that her personal spending was getting bigger, her life was getting bigger. But we were led to believe that was her own wealth, earned in her own right. And that fed into the illusion that she knew what she was doing.
After the ASIC raid and Melissa went missing, I got out all the paperwork she had sent me and looked it over. Then I rang the bank and gave the girl the account number and she said, “There’s a number missing.” That’s when I got a sinking feeling. She asked me who my financial adviser was and when I told her, she said, “This is the name of the person at ASIC that you have to call right now.” That’s how I found out. We were devastated.
We just didn’t know enough. My gut feeling was that something wasn’t right sometimes. But I think part of me just looked away and said, “No, it’ll be OK.” But that’s what Melissa was counting on, that we would trust her because we knew her. I can’t beat myself up about that. I think the way she designed it was for her clients to be people who already trusted her. I wish I had treated her like I would any other business relationship.
My advice would be never to mix friends and financial advisers. Or, if you do, have a third party oversee everything. I would use my own accountant. If they’re not transparent, walk away. If anyone puts pressure on you to sign something in a time frame for no reason, that’s a red flag. And I wish I’d gone and looked at her financial services licence name. Because the minute I would have known it didn’t belong to her, I would have gone, “No.” I do believe she’s dead. But I’m torn between [whether] she killed herself because there was no getting out of it, or a powerful person realised their money was missing and they did something to her – and then chucked the shoe on the beach so people would stop looking for her.
The thing that did surprise me was that she left her son, because she was a helicopter mum. She loved him. But I think she put a higher price on material goods – ahead of her parents, her friends, everyone. I can’t be upset with what Melissa did to us because I know what she did to her family, and that’s more heinous than anything she could do to us. She was in that house watching all their money get stripped away. Even if she had served time in jail, how would she have looked her parents in the eye after they’ve been evicted from their home? I don’t think she had the strength to do that.
Our life now is very different. But we’re a lot better off than some investors who have lost homes, who’ve lost a lot more than we had. It hurts to
have lost what we’ve lost, but we’re not going to give her the power to help us lose anything else. We’re just going to get on with our lives.”
*names have been changed.
This story originally appeared in the May issue of marie claire Australia.