Government and victims demand banks protect customers from scams

The Government's taken a rare swing at the banking sector - demanding "immediate and concerted" action to better protect customers from scams.

Customers like Deepak Udhani, whose world has been turned upside down.

"What has happened to us, it has changed our whole life," he said.

He's a civil engineer, and became ensnared in what he calls a "web of a severe investment scam".

He lost $100,000, convinced by scammers to invest in fake bonds. It's left his retirement in tatters.

"We are not young; we are almost 60 now. People retire at this stage, and we are struggling. I can't take a day off. I've got bills to pay."

And he's not the only one.

"Consumer NZ's done some surveying on this recently and we've found that one in 10 people have lost money to scamming in the last year or so. That's huge," said CEO Jon Duffy.

The new Commerce and Consumer Affairs Minister Andrew Bayly has had enough, issuing a letter to banks this week, demanding a better system to protect Kiwis from scams. And he told them he wants results by September.

"That's why I've asked the banks," said Bayly.

"I want them to look at what's happening around the world. Come back and make sure [safety protocols are] fit for purpose for New Zealand. But I am expecting further work in this area."

One of the letter's demands is to establish a 'confirmation of payee system'.

This refers to checking that the title you type in as the 'bank account name' matches the account number.

"Most people, quite reasonably I think, assume that actually means something. That the bank is checking the account number actually matches that account. But they don't," said Duffy.

Udhani found this out the hard way. What he thought was an account linked to 'BNP Paribus' - was actually linked to the scammer's account. He alleges that if the bank's systems had checked, it would have realised there wasn't a match, and the two payments of $50,000 would never have gone through.

The New Zealand Banking Association said customers can expect a fix by the end of the year, allowing months of time to pass while scammers could still take advantage of this New Zealand loophole.

And while the Government is calling for a voluntary reimbursement scheme for victims, the term 'voluntary' has failed to impress.

"They're talking about voluntary reimbursement," said Udhani.

"That should become mandatory ASAP. I feel if they had better systems in place, if they had checks and balances. None of us would be victims of this complex scam."

"We're calling for it at Consumer NZ, the Banking Ombudsman is calling for it, the select committee is calling for it, we think the Minister should get behind this," said Duffy. "Read the room, and force the banks to do this."

Udhani told Newshub the scam has been brutal on his family. He said his wife, who, due to severe knee arthritis, found it necessary to resign from her position at New World Albany, has now been forced to return to help pay the bills.

"Losing your life saving, and going through what we're going through... I wouldn't wish it on my worst enemy. And that's the pain. And the suffering we live in."