Quick thinking by NAB bankers in South Australia has stopped an elderly couple from losing nearly $10,000 to an elaborate and convincing phone scam.
Renmark residents Patricia and Jim, both in their 80s, were targeted with a call by a scammer pretending to work for NAB. They found themselves on the brink of withdrawing their savings and sending it to the criminal when their local Riverland NAB bankers intervened.
“I was stressed and confused and kind of freaking out with this ‘cops and robbers – good guys/bad guys’ thing,” Patricia said.
After NAB’s online security measures blocked an earlier attempt by the scammer to transfer funds out of the couple’s internet banking, the criminal doubled down and 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,” Patricia said.
“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,” Karen said.
Hidden inside the handbag was Patricia’s phone with the scammer dialled in. The criminal had demanded to listen to the conversation inside the branch to continue the con.
“Jim said the larger amount of money was for travelling in their motorhome to Brisbane for two weeks. He had a quick answer for every question I asked about the holiday that didn’t quite stack up,” Karen said.
The couple’s body language, unnatural answers and Patricia’s nervous placement of her handbag on the counter during the conversation didn’t add up for Tammy and Karen. They decided against providing 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,” Karen said.
“While it’s uncomfortable saying ‘no’, especially to a regular customer that we know, this was the right thing to do.”
“I was very upset and shaking. I am no good at lying. I just turned and walked out of the bank,” Patricia said.
After being denied the withdrawal, the penny dropped when the couple arrived home. The scammer became hostile, refusing to answer their questions and demanding they stay at their house and not to contact anyone.
Patricia and Jim went to the police and contacted NAB.
“We went and sat in our car, feeling very upset and confused after leaving the police station,” Patricia said.
“When I rang Karen at NAB, I apologised and told her the whole story, I said I just couldn’t cope with any more of this.”
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,” NAB Renmark branch manager Tammy 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.
“Fortunately for us, Karen and Tammy are excellent at their jobs. We’re very grateful,” Patricia said.
While the NAB team is always looking for signs of someone being coached by scammers, not all scams have the same hallmarks and can be harder to identify.
“Unfortunately, not all scams end this way – Jim and Patricia’s case is an important reminder of how sophisticated and dangerous scammers can be,” Tammy said.
“This is another important wake up call for Australians to really question everything, be sceptical and become even more aware to see through scams.”
“Scammers will try anything to steal your money and the wrong split-second decision can have devastating financial and emotional consequences.
“If you think you’ve been scammed, contact your bank immediately.”
NAB runs free personal cyber security webinars to help people better protect themselves and their families from criminals. Register now to attend one of NAB’s free online webinars to improve your personal cyber security awareness.
What NAB is doing to stop scammers
This year, NAB has more than 60 projects underway or completed to help address the global scam epidemic, including:
- Stopping the use of links in text messages to customers.
- Introducing payment alerts to mobile and internet banking.
- Working with telcos to prevent spoofing and NAB impersonation scams.
- Placing blocks on some high-risk crypto currency platforms.
Top tips customers can take to protect themselves from scams
- Education is the best defence – we’ve sent 9 million emails to personal customers containing scam education and we offer free online security webinars for personal and business customers as well as the community.
- If you’re unsure a person contacting you is from NAB – hang up, and call NAB using the number on your bank card or in your bank’s app.
- Your money is safe if it’s in your account. Once you move your money to another account, you lose control of it, and it can be very difficult for your bank to recover it for you. Never be pressured to move your money.
- If you think you’re a victim of a scam or fraudulent activity, contact your bank, and report it to Scam Watch.