Sep 12, 2023

Surprise outcome for 78yo with dementia following major financial scam

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Victor Shaw (left) only discovered his father, Alex (right), had been scammed when the bank mentioned it during a visit to their local branch. [Source: ABC]

A 78-year-old man recently diagnosed with dementia has claimed a major win against scammers after ANZ acknowledged it “could have done more” to support him during the ordeal, and now he’s been reimbursed for almost half a million dollars.

Key points

  • 78-year-old Alex Shaw had been contacted numerous times over the phone and was asked to purchase hundreds of dollars worth of gift cards or transfer money into cryptocurrency accounts
  • He was also told to click on links promising thousands of dollars in grant money, while he had downloaded software called AnyDesk that gave the scammers remote access to his phone and computer
  • ANZ initially suspended Mr Shaw’s account due to suspicious transactions but it was later reactivated: the scammers had coached him and told him what to say to the bank

Mr Shaw’s experiences first came to light when he was accompanied to the bank by his son, Victor. There, an ANZ staff member told him that his father was the victim of a scam, information Alex had not shared with family or friends.

Speaking to the ABC, Victor said it was a shock to learn his father had lost most of his life savings and he had never spoken up about it.

“Whether that was because he didn’t want to bother me or because he was a bit confused about it, I’m not really sure,” Victor said.

But once Victor knew what had occurred the focus shifted to working out how to get his father’s money back – if that was even possible. Most scam victims never recover their lost money with Australia’s big four banks (ANZ, Commonwealth Bank, Westpac and NAB) only reimbursing $21 million across 2021-22 despite a whopping half a billion dollars being stolen.

Alex’s cognitive decline also added to the complexity of the situation; if he had willingly given access to scammers, would the bank take the blame?

A delayed dementia diagnosis

Alex was not officially diagnosed with dementia until after he had been scammed. However, the signs had been there for several years. And with his short-term memory failing, Alex’s situation was a hard one to unpick for Victor.

“Day to day, he’s kind of fine. But that higher-level paperwork kind-of-stuff [like] managing finances… was just really beyond him. Getting the straight narrative as to what had happened… I couldn’t really work it out,” Victor said.

Thankfully, old habits are hard to break and Alex had maintained a detailed collection of notes throughout his entire ordeal, even if he didn’t personally remember what had occurred. The notes included names, dates and details of countless conversations with strangers. They identified when he was told to purchase Apple gift cards or download software called AnyDesk.

Having lost almost half a million dollars, the gift cards and cryptocurrency purchases were effectively small-scale losses. By downloading AnyDesk, Alex gave the scammers remote access to his devices, and they pounced. His bank details showed several transactions of between $10,000 and $25,000. 

It’s believed that Alex was completely unaware of the transactions going to a stranger’s account but ANZ’s fraud detection system stepped up and suspended his account. Yet it was only a temporary fix as the scammers contacted him and helped reactivate the account. Alex’s life savings were drained within weeks.

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ANZ admitted it could have done more to support and protect 78-year-old Alex Shaw. [Source: Shutterstock]

Having lodged a formal complaint on behalf of his father, Victor had even acknowledged that ANZ said not to “hold out too much hope” but after a three-month wait they provided a surprise update.

“Following our review of this matter … ANZ recognises that it could have done more to support Mr Shaw given his history with scams. Considering Mr Shaw’s vulnerability and the impact the scam has had on him, we will reimburse the scam transactions totalling $460,174.04,” ANZ stated.

“Every single person I’ve spoken to about this has been very surprised, and it was not what we were expecting at all. We thought we might get a few thousand dollars back or something. But [it’s an] incredible relief. I was just completely blown away. Absolutely astonished,” Victor added.

More protection required

Although ANZ never admitted how it could have better supported Alex, they confirmed to ABC that they do “actively engage” with customers considered at a higher risk of scams.

But if you, or anyone close to you, has shown signs of cognitive decline it’s important to speak up and talk about important issues such as finance management. Dementia Australia Chief Executive, Maree McCabe, told the ABC it’s common for people with dementia to lose the ability to assess risk and manage financial affairs and extra support is crucial.

“It’s really important that there are a trusted group of people that are supporting somebody living with dementia, and that they are aware of their vulnerabilities and ensure that they do everything they can to protect them,” Ms McCabe said.

Victor has since organised a power of attorney to protect his father’s assets.

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