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NAB’s fight against scams: ‘We will never stop them’

The major banks are in a battle against scammers, but what are they doing and will it work?

A composite image of NAB head of investigations and fraud Chris Sheehan and the NAB logo.
NAB head of investigations and fraud Chris Sheehan told Yahoo Finance how the bank is cracking down on scammers. (Source: Provided / Getty)

Scams are everywhere. Everyday Aussies are bombarded with calls, emails and text messages from scammers attempting to steal their money and, sadly, they’re achieving their goal.

Aussies have lost $3.1 billion to scams in 2022, and the problem is getting worse. But no matter how you have been contacted by scammers, one thing is the same - the money leaves your bank account and goes to criminals.

So, Yahoo Finance spoke exclusively with NAB’s head of investigations and fraud, Chris Sheehan, to find out how the bank was dealing with scams, when you might be able to get your money back if you’d been scammed, and what the future held.

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Why are we seeing so many more scams now?

Sheehan said there were several factors driving the global scams epidemic right now.

“The internet has created new digital avenues for these criminals to rip off the hard-earned money of people all over the world,” he said.

“These criminals work outside of laws, regulation and jurisdiction, and morals and ethics simply don’t exist. These criminals are often transnational, organised-crime gangs where scams are their business. They’re the same groups that operate drug-trafficking rings and serious organised crime.

“As individuals, we need to think about life in a digital world. We spend so much time on computers and mobile phones, reacting quickly and sub-consciously to content and doing things at the click of a button. This means we can be very trusting of information that comes via devices, and [we] may be losing our ability to recognise red flags.”

What are the top scam red flags NAB sees most of the time?

“My top tip for seeing through scams is knowing that NAB will never ask you to transfer money to another account to keep it safe,” he said.

“One tactic used by scammers is to hack into a business’s email account and then change the payment details on invoices going to their customers. Always double-check invoice payment details by making a phone call to your supplier or the third party you’re working with. It is a red flag if someone claiming to be from your bank says this and scammers often create a sense of urgency to prey on people’s vulnerabilities.

“Other red flags include being asked for your banking credentials or login details. NAB will never ask you to do this. If you are contacted by someone asking for this information, it is a scam.”

How long does it take until your money is not able to be retrieved?

“Each case is unique, but we’ll always make every attempt to prevent scams and recover funds where possible. But once the funds have left a victim’s account, they can be very difficult to get back for a range of factors,” Sheehan said.

“Often the money is sent overseas or transferred to a cryptocurrency exchange, and crypto platforms are often unregulated. One of the immediate steps when a scam is reported to us is to contact and report the fraud to the receiving bank as soon as possible to try to secure the money before it’s moved.”

Is there a typical tipping point where the bank can no longer help?

Sheehan said the bank would always make every attempt to prevent scams and recover funds where possible.

“We’re seeing a growing number of scams featuring money mules - where a person receives money stolen from a scam victim and allows their accounts to be used to move the funds onto another person or account,” he said.

“These mules may also be scam victims themselves and it can sometimes involve getting a commission from the scammers for allowing their accounts to be used.

“These scams are often presented as an investment or employment opportunity promising high returns or easy money with no experience required. If the offer sounds too good to be true, it probably is. If you’re told an opportunity requires you to receive or forward funds, contact your bank immediately.”

When can a scam victim be compensated?

Sheehan said NAB would usually only compensate victims when the bank was at fault.

“We assess each case individually and, in some instances, may offer a customer a goodwill payment. These payments can be for a range of reasons, including immediate support for their financial circumstances,” he said.

With scammers impersonating legitimate businesses more frequently, how can customers ensure they are really speaking to their bank?

“If you’re unsure whether a call is legitimate, hang up and call back using the number on the back of your credit or debit card, or on the company’s publicly listed website,” Sheehan said.

“Remember, your money is safe in your account and NAB will never ask you to transfer your funds to another account, often referred to by scammers as a ‘safeguarding’ account.”

Do you have a plan to combat AI technology being used by scammers?

“We have a comprehensive, bank-wide strategy to combat scams and fraud, with 64 initiatives either completed or underway to reduce the impact of fraud and scams,” he said.

“Scammers will always look to exploit loopholes, weaknesses and new technologies and we are working tirelessly to stop new scams as they come up.”

If someone believes they have been scammed, what is the first thing they should do?

“Contact your bank immediately if you think you’ve been scammed.”

What is your message to people who are ashamed that they have been scammed and don't want to talk about it?

“There is no shame in being scammed,” Sheehan said.

“Most Australians would have received scam lures via text messages, phone calls, emails and on social media and gaming platforms. Many will know someone who has lost money – or come close to losing money.

10. Do you think we will ever be able to say goodbye to scammers or is this just a new reality?

“We will never stop scammers. But what we can do is make it as hard as possible for these criminals to take people’s hard-earned money. We need to stop the crime before it happens,” he said.

“Our best defence is Australians who are curious, can see through scams, ask questions and say no when pressured to make a payment.

“More broadly, greater collaboration across government, the finance sector, telecommunications and other businesses is crucial to deterring these criminals. We’re actively working as part of a ‘Team Australia’ approach to the problem.”

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