EXCLUSIVE: Mum loses life savings after bank staff transfer £170,000 to scammers with ‘no questions’

EXCLUSIVE: Mum loses life savings after bank staff transfer £170,000 to scammers with ‘no questions’

A firefighter mum says she has lost her “life savings” after bank staff helped transfer £170,000 of her pension to a dodgy investment scam.

Cath Mulalley, 55, left her job with the London Fire Brigade and moved to Nelson, New Zealand with her husband Carl in 2008 and had their IVF miracle baby four years later.

But after Carl fell ill and was unable to work, the couple decided it would be wise to take out life insurance and invest some of their savings for their daughter Eva, 10.

Having filled out an online form for life insurance cover in June, it came as no surprise when Cath received a call from a man claiming to be an investments advisor from Citibank in New Zealand a few days later.

When Cath went to the Bank of New Zealand (BNZ) branch in Nelson, she said staff completed the transfer of $325,000 NZD (£170,000) to her new Citibank account with no questions asked.

But she became suspicious when the scammers called her saying the money had not been received, despite her bank account showing up empty.

She told The Mirror: “I thought it was strange so I checked my account and there was nothing there, in any of my accounts.

“I rang BNZ to ask them where the hell is the money if it’s not with Citibank and not in my accounts, and they kept putting me on hold and transferring me.

“I kept ringing back and demanding answers until one guy told me he would call me back.

“He finally called me back two days later and told me he had passed it to his manager because he thought something wasn’t right.

“A few days later they told me it was a scam.

“Apart from sheer panic, it’s quite hard to describe how I feel.

“I have panic attacks about what I’m going to do because I just don’t know.

“In the days after, I went into shock and worked back to back day and night shifts until I had a massive breakdown and was sent home.”

After chasing down the recipient account, which turned out to be a legitimate business account in Australia taken over by scammers, BNZ were only able to retrieve $67,000 (£35,000).

However Cath says BNZ has now claimed “there is nothing they can do” to reimburse or retrieve the remaining money – despite failing to recognise the scam during the transfer.

In a letter to Cath seen by The Mirror, BNZ confirm that one of their bankers helped to make the transfer on the branch iPad.

In the same note, BNZ claim they “do not presently have the capacity to match account numbers to the name of the account at an inter-bank level”.

But Cath says if BNZ had simply called the Citibank branch in Auckland to check the account number the scam “would never have happened”.

Cath adds that when she showed the fraudulent paperwork she had been given by the conman to her UK bank, Halifax, staff told her there was “no way they would have transferred the money”.

She said: “He took one look at the paperwork and said there were so many red flags that they just never would have done it.

“He said it wouldn’t be obvious to a customer but to them in the bank it would have raised several questions immediately.

“I’ve transferred large amounts of money before when we left the UK but I was still nervous about depositing such a large amount.

“I expected the bank to check the details of the transfer and the accounts, because that’s what you would expect from any bank trusted to look after your money.”

Now friends of Cath have launched a GoFundMe in a bid to try and help the family as they face the Cost of Living crisis with complete uncertainty.

After an adverse reaction to a routine neck surgery, Carl remains too ill to work and the family say their home is falling apart.

Cath said: “I don’t know if Carl will ever be able to go back to work again and I have lost nearly all my pension from the London Fire Brigade.

“I had always coped with living in the house because I knew one day we would renovate, but now we can’t afford to.

“I had a light at the end of the tunnel and now that has gone.”

Cath has reported the scam to New Zealand police, who say they are investigating a number of widespread and sophisticated scams targeting Australian and New Zealand bank accounts.

Officers have told Cath that her case is the largest ever amount scammed from an individual victim in the country.

A spokesperson for BNZ claimed they had worked hard to recover as much of Cath’s money as they could.

The spokesperson said: “We have thoroughly investigated the circumstances that led to this fraud and have complied with all obligations under New Zealand banking regulations. We do not believe we could have done more to prevent it.

“This sophisticated and elaborate scam was initiated when the customer unwittingly engaged with a scammer during an online search for financial services. This type of scam relies on people trusting that these seemingly legitimate online connections are what they say they are.

“Unfortunately, our customer was unknowingly intent on entering into a financial arrangement with a scammer well before going into our branch and asking our people to assist her in completing the transaction.

“The transaction was initiated by the customer, the information and paperwork provided and the conversation with our people in the branch, provided no evidence that the planned transaction was a scam.

“The transfer was being made to a valid New Zealand bank account number and a valid bank branch address was supplied, as such, term deposit transfers like these are very common across the banking industry.

“When our staff asked the customer to call Citibank to confirm the transaction the customer relied on the contact details and relationship already established during the scam and called the scammer to validate the account.”

They added: “These investment scams prey on peoples’ trust in reputable brands and mimic investment firms and banks closely. No organisation is immune from impersonation.

“Anyone seeking financial services must contact investment firms through their official New Zealand based websites and never via unprompted online contacts, emails, links or phone numbers sent directly to them, or on other websites they find on the internet.”