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Auckland man loses $570k in Bitcoin romance scam, Westpac bank makes confidential ‘goodwill’ settlement | #datingscams | #lovescams | #datingscams | #love | #relationships | #scams | #pof | | #dating | #hacking | #aihp

An Auckland divorcee who met a Singaporean woman on Tinder was tricked into sending $569,000 to a Chinese bank account in Hong Kong, believing he was investing in Bitcoin.

But after realising he’d been scammed, the banks could not recover the money, police said they could not investigate because the crooks were offshore, and the Banking Ombudsman would not get involved because the loss exceeded the watchdog’s $350,000 financial threshold.

The victim admits he was responsible for the payment and is embarrassed about being taken in.

“I’m not silly. I thought it looked really legitimate.

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“You go through this, ‘I’m such an idiot. Why did you transfer so much money?’”

He complained to Westpac saying he believed the Australian-owned company should have done more to check the legitimacy before processing the massive online payment.

Westpac has defended its actions, but after the complaint, confirmed it made a confidential “goodwill” payment as full and final settlement of the dispute.

Westpac told the Herald it believed the victim was “ultimately responsible for the loss”.

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“However we agreed to make a goodwill payment to acknowledge there were aspects of his case we could have handled better.”

Netsafe says more than 600 romance scams were reported to the agency in the past two years, with total losses of $4.5 million.

Romance scams can have devastating emotional impacts on victims, who have been convinced they are in a genuine relationship.

Scammers often use photos and identities of people they’ve found online to trick vulnerable, lonely victims into parting with their money.

“It can be difficult to deal with the financial losses involved and the psychological trauma of being defrauded and jilted by someone they’ve come to ‘know’ and care about,” Netsafe says.

The Auckland victim told the Herald he had recently divorced and had money to invest after the sale of his family home when he met a woman calling herself Lin Wei on Tinder in 2021.

They shared dozens of messages over several weeks in which she sent him photos of her and her child and discussed travelling to meet each other. She also discussed cryptocurrency and a Bitcoin investment opportunity.

The pair decided to invest in the venture together. The woman said she would put up the initial investment proceeds and he could pay her back.

The man was sent a link to a bogus website that appeared to show the pair’s Bitcoin account with a balance of US$900,000 ($1.45m).

Convinced it was legitimate, he agreed to send the woman his share and made a single online payment of $569,000 from his Westpac account to the Overseas-Chinese Banking Corporation in early December 2021.

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The man thought he had a sizeable Bitcoin portfolio worth $1.4m. But it was all a lie. Photo / 123rf
The man thought he had a sizeable Bitcoin portfolio worth $1.4m. But it was all a lie. Photo / 123rf

He confirmed Westpac sent him a text message to authorise the transfer then phoned to check why he was increasing his daily transfer limit and sending such a large amount offshore.

“I said it was to repay a loan overseas.”

Westpac then processed the international payment.

The Singaporean swindler tried to get more money before cutting communications. The victim realised he’d been fleeced and alerted authorities in late December 2021.

Westpac contacted the Chinese bank and requested the stolen money’s return. However, the victim was told there was no response.

Westpac then launched an internal investigation but ultimately denied liability because the man had authorised the payment, saying there was no indication to the bank that he was involved in a scam.

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A man who lost $569,000 in a romance scam shared dozens of messages with a Singaporean woman he met on Tinder who suggested he invest money in Bitcoin. Photo / Jason Dorday
A man who lost $569,000 in a romance scam shared dozens of messages with a Singaporean woman he met on Tinder who suggested he invest money in Bitcoin. Photo / Jason Dorday

The victim said he had felt embarrassed and vulnerable after learning he’d been duped, but was coming to terms with his loss and moving on with his life.

He said he felt pressured to accept Westpac’s payment offer, and wished he’d pushed for more compensation. He also believed Westpac had missed important “red flags”.

“Banks don’t give away money. In my opinion, there’s no way they would give me money unless they thought there was a problem with their systems.”

A Westpac spokesman told the Herald it rejected suggestions the settlement agreement was signed under duress.

The bank worked with the victim over several years to help recover lost funds and educate him about financial crime.

After an earlier $1500 fraud loss, Westpac spoke to the victim about how to avoid similar scams in the future.

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“He assured us at the time that he was aware of the risk posed by fraud and scams.”

Despite its warnings, Westpac believed the victim continued to engage with scammers. The bank had now put additional safeguards on his accounts and placed flags on his customer profile.

Westpac was investing significantly in financial crime prevention and detection, but said customer vigilance remained the best defence.

Detective Senior Sergeant Craig Bolton said police believed the Hong Kong account holder was an “unwitting mule” who was scammed into converting the funds into crypto, or forwarding them to another mule’s account in a different jurisdiction.

The Auckland victim’s case had now been filed as the scam’s perpetrators were untraceable, Bolton said.

Lane Nichols is a senior journalist and deputy head of news based in Auckland. Before joining the Herald in 2012, he spent a decade at Wellington’s Dominion Post and Nelson Mail.

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