Bank response to scam victim left family despondent, bewildered and out of pocket

Twenty-six thousand dollars is lot of money to Angela Fitzwater. 

That’s how much the 83-year-old has had stolen in not one, but two separate bank scams this year.

But as much as the financial loss is distressing, she said the response of her bank, Bendigo Bank, had added to the harm.

“The bottom line is the bank just doesn’t give a damn, they don’t care,” she said.

It was back in January that the WhatsApp message landed on Mrs Fitzwater’s phone.

“Hi mum. I smashed my phone. This is my temporary number,” it read.

The former television researcher had never heard of what she now knows is a classic scam.

“He said, ‘I need to pay a bill today for $3000. As soon as I get back into my account I’ll repay you.’ I said, ‘Yeah no problem’.”

Thinking it was her son Alex caught in a bind, Mrs Fitzwater transferred $10,000 before she twigged she was texting with a scammer, and immediately called her bank to let them know.

Angela and Alex Fitzwater sit at a table in a home, looking at papers.
Scammers impersonated Angela’s son Alex in order to gain her confidence and ask for money. (ABC News: Madeleine Morris)

The customer service representative was sympathetic, and tried to get through to the bank’s fraud department but couldn’t reach them.

The representative said the fraud would be investigated, but she couldn’t promise a return of the money.

A months-long wait for answers

Over the next three months, Mrs Fitzwater called Bendigo Bank 12 times, looking for help and answers.

The bank’s own call logs show its customer service representatives repeatedly couldn’t get through to its own fraud department.

They also suggest the bank called her back just once.

 Her multiple emails with information and questions went unanswered.

Already dealing with the recent death of her husband, a cancer diagnosis and the stress of losing $10,000, Mrs Fitzwater said the bank’s treatment compounded her distress.

“The lack of any sort of empathy or response that I thought, well, they obviously just don’t give a damn, you know, they just don’t care,” she said.

Her son Alex said he watched her slip further into a depression.

“Most mornings I’d say, ‘How did you sleep, mum?’ And she said, ‘I didn’t get to sleep until four, just lying awake, thinking what can I do? How can I get it back?'”

Bendigo Bank finally responds

Finally, more than three months after the scam, Mrs Fitzwater received an email saying the bank had investigated and tried to recover the funds but was unable to.

“As you authorised and completed the payments through banking, unfortunately, the bank has no further recovery rights for reimbursement,” it read.

Steph Tonkin, CEO of the Consumer Action Law Centre, said Bendigo Bank’s response was “really concerning.”

“Bendigo Bank couldn’t contact their own fraud department, and in scams cases, time is of the essence,” Ms Tonkin said.

“They’re blaming her for having been scammed.”

Stephanie Tonkin looks at the camera in an office.
Stephanie Tonkin says Bendigo Bank’s response to the scam raised concerns. (ABC News: Margaret Paul)

She said cases like Mrs Fitzwater’s showed there was an urgent need for reform of the banking sector’s approach to scams.

“The UK government has just passed laws to force banks to reimburse scam victims where, through no fault of their own they are victim of a scammer,” she said.

“Absolutely, we should be following suit.”

Bendigo Bank didn’t respond to detailed questions from the ABC about Mrs Fitzwater’s case, citing privacy reasons.

In a statement, it said the bank took cyber security “very seriously” and used “a combination of standard industry practices” to protect customers.

“By working together with our customers, we can even further reduce the incidence of scams and fraud,” the statement read.

“It goes without saying when the bank is at fault, we will reimburse our customers for the loss of funds. It is important that customers take steps to protect themselves and do not share their passwords.”

Scammed for a second time

Tragically for Mrs Fitzwater, in late June, scammers struck again, this time calling and pretending to be from her bank’s own fraud department.

Thinking she was finally getting help, the fraudster convinced her to share her security details.

He swiftly transferred $40,000 from her savings account into her transaction account, and then bought $16,000 worth of cryptocurrency in smaller transactions.

But the bank didn’t notify Angela Fitzwater. She said she only found out when her card was declined at the shop.

Again, Alex and Angela Fitzwater said they were given conflicting advice, and, to Alex’s bafflement, were told to take Mrs Fitzwater’s phone to a phone shop to be wiped before the bank would reopen her online banking access.

“To hand over very critical information (such as PINS and passwords) to some random computer shop person at some random shopping mall somewhere,” he said, shaking his head.

A woman and man standing on a verandah
Alex Fitzwater says the advice given by Bendigo Bank to his mother after she was scammed didn’t make sense. (ABC News: Madeleine Morris)

Mr Fitzwater said the advice was wrong for his mother because her phone’s security hadn’t been compromised — she had given out her security code.

Bendigo Bank told the ABC it recommended having a device cleaned in line with’s advice on how to response to scams.

However, this is not what the government website recommends.

Rather, Moneysmart advises that in the event of a device being compromised, users run their own virus scans and consider having an IT professional check the device.

Mr Fitzwater said he believed Bendigo Bank’s response to his mother’s case had been “negligent.”

“It just showed me that the bank had no framework or protocol around how to deal with this stuff,” he said.

A red Bendigo Bank sign.
Bendigo Bank says it takes cyber security seriously and will reimburse its customers when the bank is at fault. (ABC News: Christopher Gillette)

Bendigo Bank has since reimbursed Mrs Fitzwater for around half of the stolen $16,000.

She is waiting for its decision about whether she will get the other half of the money spent on crypto.

Bendigo Bank has announced it would be blocking “high-risk” crypto payments in an effort to stop financial crime, bringing it into line with some other Australian banks.

Big four banks lashed by watchdog

In April, corporate watchdog ASIC released a highly critical report covering the four major banks — ANZ, Commonwealth Bank, NAB and Westpac — and their responses to the threat of scams.

According to the report, about 31,100 customers at the big four banks collectively lost more than $558 million to scams in the 2021-22 financial year.

In July, the Australian Financial Complaints Authority said it had received a 46 per cent increase in scam-related complaints and 69 per cent increase in unauthorised transaction complaints

An image of the big four bank ATMs side-by-side
Customers at the big four banks lost more than half a billion dollars to scams in the 2021-22 financial year.(ABC News: Michael Barnett)

Ms Tonkin of the Consumer Action Law Centre said the federal government should urgently introduce its announced code of practice for the banks to improve their prevention and response to scams, and reimbursement should be part of it.

“The point with reimbursement is not only does it help the customer, it proves an incentive for banks to detect and prevent scams from taking place in the first place,” she said.

Alex Fitzwater agrees.

“Now that the banks have such control of our financial lives, it’s incumbent on them to protect us from the threats,” he said.

© 2020 Australian Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved.
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  1. I find it a disgrace that every person that hands over money on the internet to anybody who asked for it expects the Bank to reimburse them for their own stupidity. It’s not the Banks job to look after idiots, there is an abundance of social workers and treehuggers to do that, people should take responsibility for their own mistakes. If the Government wanted to be fair dinkum, (what a novel thought), they would get rid of credit cards and all Internet banking and go back to pass books, where people actually get off their backsides, go into a bank, do their business in person, showing the relative identification for various transactions and everything is tickety boo. Every penny in place no chance of scams. So if your that stupid to hand out money hand over fist to anyone who asked for it, stating I’m your brother I’m your sister I’m your mother, It’s your responsibility, where it. Not the Banks Fault or Responsibility, Again Not the Banks Fault or Responsibility, you did it, live with it. Once again, if you’re that Stupid or Mentally Incapable you shouldn’t be in charge of money and someone else should be doing it for you. Very sorry, Truth Hurts. Jacka. (NO APOLOGIES)

  2. If banks are forced to compensate scammed customers irrespective of how irresponsible the customer was about protecting their own (not the bank’s) money then bank fees for us all will sky-rocket.

    This is a mind-blowing example of adult helicopter parenting. The son appears to ask for $3,000, but “oh darling that’s not enough I’ll send you $10,000″ without even a phone call to check if it’s needed and why. And that’s the bank’s fault? Really?

    The article states, “The point with reimbursement is not only does it help the customer, it proves an incentive for banks to detect and prevent scams from taking place in the first place,.” Maybe the same could be said about customers, if they risk losing their own money, maybe they’ll take better care of it.

    I’m not suggesting that banks couldn’t do more to prevent money being siphoned off through scams. They could do much more. Yet with most banks its possible to set a daily withdrawal limit and multi-stage approval. Large amounts can be put into term deposits which quarantines access,

    But if we are all to cover the $hundreds of millions in scams of amongst others, the love sick dreamers who insist on sending their life savings to “stranded millionaires in Nigeria then there is no incentive for those with more money than sense to smarten up.

  3. I do feel sorry for the woman, but there have been many warnings about scams. She should have tried to ring her son on his mobile number to ask if he needed more, (not just more than triple what they asked for), and then she would have known it was a scam. She was a television researcher, her job was to ask questions! The second scam, she should have told them she would ring back, or spoken to her son first. The banks cant afford to reimburse every stupid scam, otherwise all of our fees will skyrocket!

  4. If it feels strange, be wary. I’m aged 72 and after receiving a similar text message, I asked “What’s your name” but never received a reply. I also forwarded the text to both my children who informed me, it wasn’t them. I agree with the other comments that banks should not be liable for customers’ stupidity considering all the warnings they issue and offer extra layers of security. However, it should depend on the circumstances as in this case, Bendigo bank failed their customer due to their inaction after the initial contact followed by little and no responses to subsequent communications which was utterly disgraceful. Therefore, Bendigo bank should fully compensate the customer, apologise and assure her they have reviewed their procedures to ensure no repeat of this failure and unacceptable behaviour.

  5. When I read the headlines of “Bank response to scam victim left family despondent, bewildered and out of pocket” I felt sorry for the victim. But as I continue reading further on, sorry to say, I think the victim sort of deserved it. She brought this onto herself. She knew she was already scammed of $10,000 earlier on. She also knew there is nothing the bank could do to compensate her loss. Why would she trust someone purporting to be calling from the bank asking for her security details. She should ask the caller to leave his name and number behind so she can call back without giving out any personal details. There is no urgency to release any personal or security details over the phone. It could even be some “crooks” who already knew how much she has in her account and she being gullible, so why not strike again? A very sad case indeed. One cannot be too trusting.
    Times are hard, hard earned money should be handled carefully as there are plenty people without conscience out there waiting to entice you to part with your money by various means..
    You never know who you are divulging the information to. This goes for people making purchases online too. Always keep check on transactions of your card for you never know you might find some charges you may be unaware of.

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