Bank’s response to lost life savings left man’s son stunned

Victor Shaw was at the bank with his father Alex when he first found out about the missing money.

“Your dad has been the victim of a scam,” the ANZ staff member informed him this year.

Like many Australians, 78-year-old Alex Shaw had been targeted by scammers before.

But Victor had no idea about the latest issue.

“My dad hadn’t shared this with me,” the Anglican church rector said.

“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.”

What was clear, however, was the magnitude of the scam.

“I found out that he lost pretty much most of his life savings,” Victor said.

Victor Shaw sits in a church.
Victor Shaw wants to share his father’s story in the hope that others will not fall victim to similar scams.(ABC News: Simon Farrell)

In total, almost half a million dollars had been pilfered from his father’s account.

“It was just really awful trying to wrap my head around that and then go, ‘Okay, what are we doing now?'” he said.

Victor knew the chances of getting the money back were extremely slim.

Of more than half-a-billion dollars lost through scams at Australia’s big four banks in 2021-22, only $21 million was paid back in reimbursements or compensation.

Following the paper trail

Victor Shaw with father Alex on a boat.
Victor’s father Alex was diagnosed with dementia shortly after being scammed. (Supplied: Victor Shaw)

To have any hope of recouping the funds, Victor needed to understand how Alex had been deceived, and whether ANZ had done enough to prevent it.

But getting a straight answer out of his dad was difficult.

For several years, he’d noticed his dad’s mental faculties declining.

And shortly after being scammed this year, Alex was diagnosed with dementia.

“Day to day, he’s kind of fine,” Victor said.

“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.”

But without realising it, his dad had created an informal paper trail of his interactions with the scammers.

As a meticulous notetaker, Alex had jotted down dates, names and details of conversations each time a stranger had contacted him.

In several instances, his notes indicate he was told to purchase hundreds of dollars’ worth of Apple gift cards at the supermarket, and then provide the serial numbers to a caller in Thailand.

Other notes suggest he was encouraged to transfer money into a cryptocurrency account, or to click on links that promised thousands of dollars in grant money.

There were also references in the notes to “AnyDesk”.

A priest reads from a notebook.
Victor Shaw, who is rector of St George’s Anglican Church in Hobart, says he was “blown away” with the bank’s response. (ABC News: Simon Farrell)

After searching online, Victor found out AnyDesk is a type of software that, once downloaded, can be used by scammers to remotely access devices.

He believes this was the main way his dad’s account was fleeced.

Alex’s bank records show that several sums of between $10,000 and $25,000 were initially transferred to an unknown individual’s account.

Victor said ANZ’s fraud detection system then suspended his dad’s account due to the suspicious transactions.

But the account was later reactivated, and the scam transactions continued over a couple of weeks until there was no money left.

Close-up of Victor Shaw holding notes made by his father Alex.
Victor Shaw holds the notes made by his father Alex during the scam phone calls. (ABC News: Simon Farrell)

Alex’s notes indicate the scammers had ‘coached'”‘ him on how to get ANZ to reactivate his account, without realising that doing so would further compromise his money.

“Ask them to unlock my account. Do not mention AnyDesk,” Alex wrote after one conversation with the scammers, who instructed him on what to say.

Son ‘astonished’ by bank’s response

A blue ANZ Bank sign is seen at a bank branch in Martin Place, Sydney.
In a letter, the bank admitted it “could have done more to support Mr Shaw given his history with scams”. (ABC News: Brendan Esposito)

Victor lodged a formal complaint with ANZ but wasn’t optimistic about a positive outcome.

“They just said, ‘Look, we’re going to try and recover it, normally we can get a little bit, but don’t hold out too much hope.'”

But three months after his dad’s account was drained, the bank sent Victor a letter that left him stunned.

“Following our review of this matter … ANZ recognises that it could have done more to support Mr Shaw given his history with scams,” the bank stated.

“Considering Mr Shaw’s vulnerability and the impact the scam has had on him, we will reimburse the scam transactions totalling $460,174.04.”

Victor could not believe it.

“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.”

Alex Shaw stands in a library leaning on a bookshelf.
Alex Shaw’s bank account was emptied by scammers despite initially being suspended under a fraud detection system. (Supplied: Victor Shaw)

In a statement, ANZ said scams were an “insidious problem” affecting the entire community.

“Unfortunately, we do see instances when cyber criminals target some of our most vulnerable customers,” said Shaq Johnson, the bank’s head of customer protection.

“Due to the callous nature of this illegal activity, criminals will coach and emotionally manipulate their victims to gain access to their bank accounts and funds.”

He would not elaborate on how ANZ could have done more to support Alex, or why the bank decided to refund all the money.

But Mr Johnson said the bank actively engages with customers considered more at risk of scams to better protect them.

“The ways in which cyber criminals are scamming and defrauding customers is constantly evolving,” he said.

“ANZ is continually reviewing and adjusting our capabilities to keep customers safe.”

People with dementia at higher risk

Dementia Australia, which advocates for the 400,000 Australians living with the condition, said people with dementia were particularly vulnerable to deception.

“The reason why, is that as people’s dementia progresses, they do lose the ability to assess risk and also to manage their financial affairs,” the organisation’s chief executive, Maree McCabe, said.

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

Victor Shaw in church, smiling.
Victor Shaw hopes others will have conversations with ageing parents to help them avoid falling victim to scams. (ABC News: Simon Farrell)

Victor has now set up power of attorney with the bank to ensure Alex’s finances are kept in order.

He hopes that by sharing his dad’s story, other families can prevent similar scams being perpetrated against loved ones.

“As Australians, we don’t like to talk about money – it’s a bit of a private topic,” he said.

“But I think this is one of those things where, as our parents age, it’s really good to be having these conversations early and to be putting in place some of those mechanisms.”

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  1. It’s long overdue that the big banks rediscovered their moral compass but better late than never. This article highlights how easily the elderly can be exploited and is a red flag to families to ensure that they are cautious with whom they interact. It is of particular concern now with voice recognition and families should have that discussion on how to avoid becoming a victim. Well done ANZ. There is hope yet.

  2. For the first time, I received a text message purporting to be from the CBA, advising to contact the bank re a suspicious transaction. Seeing that the text was coming in on the bank’s phone number where I normally receive information, alerting me to up-coming date to pay my credit card. This looked as though it was from the bank; I should add there was a spelling mistake. I went back to the CBA branch, thinking that the bank would be interested to detect why this was coming from the bank. Neither the staff in the branch nor the CBA phone service was interested in the text. I was simply told, just delete. Then to compound this further, the CBA phone service said that Telstra was onto this matter. I asked how that was possible because no one had bothered to look at the text. What do I deduce, I’m on my own to look after scams, fake texts coming from the CBA.

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