Oct 13, 2023

Bank staff step in to save older couple’s life savings from scam

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Older Australians lose more to scams than any other group, with people aged 65 and over falling victim more frequently and losing more money. [Source: Shutterstock]

Vigilant branch bankers have stopped an older couple from losing nearly $10,000 to an elaborate and convincing phone scam.

South Australian Renmark residents Patricia and Jim, both in their 80s, were targeted with a call by a scammer pretending to work for NAB bank and were dangerously close to withdrawing their savings of $10,000 and sending it to the fraudsters.

In April, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) reported Australians lost more than $3.1 billion to scams in 2022 — an 80% increase from 2021. Older Australians lost more to scams than any other group, with people aged 65 and over falling victim more frequently and losing more money.

After NAB’s online security measures blocked an earlier attempt by the scammer to transfer funds out of the couple’s internet banking, they convinced Patricia and Jim to take part in a fake, undercover ‘sting’ and physically withdraw their own cash from the branch to deposit it into a scam account with another bank.

A complex web of lies was woven to trick the couple into thinking they were helping uncover supposed fraud at the local branch and to distrust the bank staff when they were asked questions.

“He coached us on what to say if were questioned by the bankers about why we wanted the money, the type of questions they might ask, how to answer and, if things got difficult, to demand the money because it was ours […] The story we were to tell them was that we were going to Brisbane for two weeks.”

But from the moment Jim and Patricia arrived in the branch, there were red flags for NAB branch manager Tammy McBride and banker Karen Eckermann.

“Jim normally comes in alone and requests a smaller $2,000 transfer but this time his wife was with him, and she was clutching her handbag, which she placed on the counter,” Ms Eckermann said.

Hidden inside the handbag was Patricia’s phone with the scammer dialled in. The couple’s body language, unnatural answers and the placement of Patricia’s handbag on the counter during the conversation didn’t add up and the staff refused to provide them the cash.

“Some customers might get annoyed when we ask them questions about their own money, but we ask them for this exact reason – to stop potential scams […] While it’s uncomfortable saying ‘no’, especially to a regular customer that we know, this was the right thing to do,” Karen said.

Patricia became very upset and shaken so the couple left the bank. When they returned home, the scammer became hostile, refusing to answer their questions and demanding they stay at their house and not contact anyone. This is when Patricia and Jim realised what was going on. 

They went to the police and contacted NAB. When Patricia and Jim returned to the branch, they were relieved to find their money was safe but upset they’d been conned and convinced to turn against their local branch staff.

“Patricia was crying when she came in,” Ms McBride said.

“I gave her a hug and she said it wasn’t the money that had her stressed, it was that she listened to the scammer and felt like she couldn’t trust us.”

Patricia and Jim sent Tammy and Karen a card and gifts to thank them for helping to save their $10,000.

Ms McBride and Ms Eckermann with their gifts from Patricia and Jim. [Source: NAB]

Unfortunately, scammers are becoming more sophisticated and clever with how they entice and trick older people out of their money.

“Scammers will try anything to steal your money and the wrong split-second decision can have devastating financial and emotional consequences.”

In July, a national anti-scams centre was established to help combat scams and online fraud, after Australians reported losing billions of dollars from frauds and scams in 2022.

The Federal Government spent $86 million on a national effort to prevent scams, including $58 million to create the national centre to report scams and distribute information to banks, law enforcement and vulnerable communities.

If you think you’ve been scammed, contact your bank and the police immediately. 

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