Maria had saved $50,000 and decided to invest it. Maria began looking online at different investment firms and found one that she was really interested in.
Maria wanted to be careful as she was investing a large sum of money, so she researched the background of the company she was investing with. The company was registered in the United Kingdom and had several international branches. Maria was happy with what she found – rave reviews. The company was a reputable investment one that served an international market, and Maria found them very prompt at responding to her emails and phone calls.
In January 2021, Maria made the decision to invest her savings with the company. She arranged an international transfer of her NZD50,000 to the company’s bank account in Canada. Maria received regular updates about her investment over the next eight months.
In August 2021, Maria had her hours reduced due to COVID-19, so she contacted the company to arrange withdrawing some of her investment funds. The company stopped returning her calls and emails, so Maria started to worry. She did a deeper search into the company and found that she had actually been dealing with a fraudulent copycat company that mimicked the reputable company she thought she had invested with. Maria had been the victim of a scam.
Maria contacted the company she used for the international transfer and asked them to recall her $50,000 payment. The transfer company asked the Canadian bank that they work with to recall the payment from the scammer’s account (which was with another Canadian bank).
The scammer’s bank told the transfer company’s bank that the recipient account had been closed, so they could not recall the funds. Maria was not happy with this response, and urged the transfer company to have the Canadian banks launch an investigation into the fraud. The transfer company explained the situation to the Canadian bank, but were told that nothing further could be done.
The transfer company told Maria to raise the issue with law enforcement both in New Zealand and Canada. Maria did not think the transfer company had done enough to help her recover her money, so she complained to FSCL.
Maria thought that the transfer company should push the banks harder to investigate the fraud. She couldn’t contact the banks directly herself because she was not a party to the transaction, so she thought the transfer company should be doing more to help.
The transfer company made two requests to the Canadian bank that they work with to recall the funds and provide a fraud reference number. The bank told them that the matter was closed, so the transfer company didn’t see anything further they could do.
We saw that the transfer company had followed Maria’s instructions and arranged for the funds to be deposited in the account she gave them. It wasn’t their fault that the account was being used by a scammer. There was nothing on the face of the transaction to raise a red flag that fraud might be involved.
We looked at the contract between Maria and the transfer company to see if it said anything about what they might do in the case of fraud and scams, but the contract didn’t say anything about fraud.
Next, we considered what would be ‘fair and reasonable’ to expect the transfer company to do in order to assist Maria. We thought that their attempts to have the Canadian bank open a fraud investigation were fair, but that ultimately, they couldn’t force them to do this.
We asked the transfer company to reach out to the Canadian bank one more time to see if the matter could be escalated. The transfer company did this, but they got the same response from the bank – that the recipient account had been closed so nothing could be done. The recipient bank could launch an investigation if they wished, but this was up to them.
Whilst we sympathised with Maria, we found that there were no contractual obligations on the transfer company to do anything further, nor was there anything else they ought to have done. We agreed that the best place for Maria to raise her concerns now, was with law enforcement agencies.
Maria discontinued her complaint and told us she would speak with the police to see if they could help her.
Insights for consumers
Consumers need to be mindful that there are some extremely sophisticated scams run by experienced fraudsters. Whilst the firm Maria thought she was dealing with was in fact a very reputable firm, the copycat website looked identical and tricked Maria into investing her money through that website.
It pays to be extra cautious when sending money overseas to a company you have not dealt with before. Once you send funds internationally, it might be very difficult to trace them or have overseas institutions provide any assistance if things go wrong.
Consumers may wish to talk to a financial adviser before investing money on-line with an overseas company.