Mum lost £170k after bank sent her life savings to scammers no questions asked

A firefighter mum claims her "life savings" were lost after bank staff helped transfer £170,000 of her pension to scammers.

Former London Fire Brigade firefighter Cath Mulalley, 55, is now riddled with panic attacks and says "I don't know what I'm going to do".

Cath moved to New Zealand with her husband Carl in 2008 and decided to take out life insurance and invest some of their savings for their daughter Eva, 10, after Carl fell ill and couldn't work.

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The mum filled out an online form for life insurance cover in June and a few days later received a call from a man claiming to be an investments advisor from Citibank in New Zealand.

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.

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"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."

She added: "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.

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.

After an adverse reaction to a routine neck surgery, Carl remains too ill to work.

"I had a light at the end of the tunnel and now that has gone," Cath said.

The BNZ 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."

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