Auckland couple seconds away from losing $500,000 in sophisticated banking scam

An Auckland couple is beyond relieved after coming just seconds away from losing half a million dollars in a sophisticated banking scam. 

Westpac, the bank the scam artists pretended to be from, has now issued a public warning about the scam and urged anyone who had been targeted by it to contact them.

But the ploy very nearly caught out one unsuspecting couple, who have asked to remain anonymous, last week.

The couple are in the process of selling their home, and as they don't plan to buy another home for a year, they had been browsing term deposits. 

"I had some money coming up soon and I was scrolling through the various banks looking at rates. I honestly don't remember filling in anything but the following day a man phoned me," the woman told Newshub. 

She was then provided with paperwork, all of which looked real, that even included anti-money laundering forms.

The woman was also sent an email claiming to be from Westpac. The convincing email included a well-designed prospectus, Westpac logos and was sent from a plausible email address. It set out different rates for managed funds and claimed to be from a Westpac senior administration officer.

Believing the email was real, she called the number provided and was planning to invest $500,000 in two separate $250,000 funds.

But luckily at the last moment, she decided to call the bank and double-check. 

"Because of the amount of money I was going to invest I had a second thought," the woman said.

"My husband was out so I thought, 'I might just ring Westpac because it's a lot of money' - and oh my God, I am so glad I did."

The woman said the email was so convincing she nearly went through with it, but something seemed off. 

"The only thing that triggered me was they kept using the same phone number for everything," she said.

"Then at one stage I said, 'Can't I go and do all this paperwork at one of your branches rather than trying to scan it?' and they said, 'Oh no, the branches are for banking and we're the virtual banking partners, but if you've got any problems scanning one of us will talk you through it'."

The woman says she's a careful person but because she was researching term deposits the day before, she believed it. 

"It's so well done and the people are so plausible. You know, whenever you go to do anything like this, somebody always calls to check for money laundering and they did all that and it was so plausible." 

"They do say if it looks too good to be true it is, but I mean they're only saying 3.6 percent - it's not like it's 10 percent."  

She said her husband was "so relieved" when he found out the bullet they'd dodged. 

'Handful of reports' about scam so far

Westpac NZ chief risk officer Carolyn Kidd told Newshub the bank is aware of the scam. Kidd said the scammers have put significant effort into making it look authentic. 

"Would-be investors are encountering this scam when they do internet searches for information about investments and term deposits.

"These people are asked to enter personal contact details on the websites which come up in the search results, some of which may purport to help people compare investments.

"The scammers then email or call the would-be investor using those contact details."

She urged people to be vigilant and contact the bank if they've been targeted by the scam. 

"We have had a handful of reports about the scam so far. We want people to be vigilant and report any suspicious activity so our financial crime team can investigate.

"If someone suspects they may have been targeted by this scam they should call the Westpac NZ contact centre on 0800 400 600 or talk to one of the Westpac NZ branch team."

Scam artists 'increasingly sophisticated' - Netsafe

Netsafe chief technology officer Sean Lyons told Newshub scammers are getting better and better at what they do and can be very hard to catch. 

"I would love to go back in time to the point where scam emails used to have awfully constructed language with dodgy logos and rubbish email addresses and crap phone numbers that didn't look real."

Lyons said unfortunately scammers have learnt how to convince people they're legitimate. 

He said while more obvious scams still exist, there are plenty that make their money off of looking as real as possible. 

"Scammers are increasingly sophisticated in their mechanisms and increasingly sophisticated in their approach to people."

He said people need to be vigilant and double-check things, just like the couple did. 

"There are some things you can do before you make any transaction, and that can be as small as a pair of sneakers versus a $20,000 investment. 

"We have to ask a couple of questions including: 'Why did I get this today? Why me? What do they actually know about me, is my name or other details included? What are they asking for?'"

Lyons said a good clue something is a scam is if there is time pressure, which scammers often do to stop people doing their research. He said banks wouldn't put consumers in that position.

"Banks aren't going to do that and if there is time pressure, you want to be talking to someone that you know can verify it from the bank. Or you go and seek some independent financial advice."

And the age-old phrase, 'if it looks too good to be true, it probably is' isn't always right either, he said.

"There are these massive investments where if you invest $1 you could make $400 million - I think those are becoming increasingly obvious to everybody.

"But what we do see more and more is it's not always the super fantastic offers that are scams. Some of them can be quite reasonable and it really is a case of applying those checks."