Westpac: Woman’s $280,000 in withdrawals prompts fury

The family of an elderly lady with dementia was stunned to learn that she was able to withdraw over NZ$305,000 (US$280,000) in cash from a Westpac branch.

They claimed that employees of the 89-year-old had helped her carry out the transactions over a period of 34 months before her death.

In total, she made 70 cash withdrawals at the bank counter between September 2017 and July 2020.

The withdrawals were made with the help of Westpac Masterton staff on New Zealand’s North Island, and the woman’s daughters only found out when they looked at their bank statements after her death.

One of the woman’s daughters told the New Zealand Herald She had alerted the bank to her dementia in February 2020 and included a note in her file advising that she was a vulnerable customer and should be cautious when making large/unusual transactions.

Nevertheless, she managed to withdraw NZ$50,000 (US$46,000) in five cash withdrawals from the bank counter before her death.

Her daughter said she knew something was wrong with her mother before she died, saying she made comments about “people cheating her out of money” and became angry.

It’s a mystery how the woman who died on July 30, 2020, spent her money, as her family said she lived frugally. They said she carried around $100 bills.

“I was speechless,” the woman’s daughter told the NZ Herald.

“These are just bank withdrawals. So there are no incidental costs, no credit card payments or anything like that, and they didn’t ask about it at all.

“She had no mortgage on her house. Her car was paid off. What the hell did people think she was going to spend the money on?”

Westpac denied any wrongdoing, saying the woman was “confident and savvy with money” but had kept her finances confidential and staff “ultimately followed her instructions when processing the withdrawals”.

On one occasion, the woman had forgotten to bring a handbag, but to her surprise she received an envelope estimated to be three inches thick and stuffed with NZ$23,000 (US$21,000).

Her daughter remembers accompanying her mother to the bank. She did not know how much she wanted to withdraw, but she did remember the teller telling her it was a large amount.

She made her largest cash withdrawal of NZ$24,000 (US$22,000) in May 2019. That month, more than NZ$60,000 (US$55,000) in cash was withdrawn from her account.

Her family, who filed a formal complaint with the bank this year, wants to know what checks the bank wrote before repeatedly transferring huge amounts of money to her.

They claim that Westpac failed in its duty of care towards vulnerable elderly customers.

They also believe she was a victim of financial elder abuse as they cannot prove any amount over NZ$200,000 (US$184,000).

“I can’t prove it, but the money is missing. And the NZ$23,000 ($21,000) she withdrew three weeks before her death had disappeared from her house.”

When the daughter asked Westpac staff why they were giving her mother so much cash, they reportedly said they were “too scared” to ask her what the money was for.

“I just thought, ‘What the hell?'” the daughter told the NZ Herald.

“She was 89, she was fragile. She weighed about 100 pounds, she was this tiny little woman. I mean, come on.

“She didn’t bite, but she was aggressive. She had a certain charisma and as the dementia got worse, she became even more aggressive.”

Although the police were called in to investigate a suspicious person, the case was closed because there was no evidence of embezzlement of the money.

A complaint has also been lodged with the New Zealand Banking Ombudsman.

A Westpac spokesman told the NZ Herald that the staff had asked the woman “several times” about the purpose of withdrawing the case.

“However, she was very confidential about her finances, which her daughter confirmed… and our staff ultimately acted according to her instructions in processing the withdrawals.”

When asked about the last withdrawal of $21,000, she said she did not know when she would be able to go to the bank again and that employees “felt comfortable” handing over the cash in an envelope because her daughter was accompanying her.

Senior Sergeant Gareth Barnes said police launched an investigation after being informed of the withdrawals, spoke to the woman’s family and those around her and looked at video footage of the withdrawals. However, they were unable to establish who had received the withdrawals and the case was closed.

Australians lost a total of $2.7 billion to fraud in 2023, down from $3.15 billion in 2022.

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