One widow was living with dementia before her death. But it’s the actions of Westpac staff that have really upset her family

The family of a widow living with dementia say she was allowed to withdraw more than $300,000 from a Westpac branch more than 24 months before her death.

The 89-year-old woman was a customer of a Westpac branch in New Zealand’s North Island until her death on July 30, 2020.

The elderly woman made more than 70 teller-assisted cash withdrawals totaling a staggering $305,000 between September 2017 and July 2020.

Her daughter claimed the bank authorized the transactions despite warning them about her dementia and that she was a vulnerable customer.

An 89-year-old widow who suffered from dementia withdrew more than $300,000 in cash from her Westpac account in the 34 months before her death (picture).

Concerned about her mother’s health, the daughter contacted a Westpac branch in February 2020.

The bank added a note to her file saying she was a «vulnerable customer» and warned tellers to «be wary of any large or unusual transactions».

Despite the warning, the elderly woman was able to withdraw $50,000 in five separate transactions with the help of a teller in the months before her death.

The daughter explained that she was «overwhelmed», the staff did not question any of the selections.

She added that her mother paid off her house and her car and did not use the money for utility bills or credit card payments.

«What the hell did they think they were spending the money on?» the daughter told the NZ Herald.

The daughter said she knew «something was wrong» with her mother in the months before her death because she would get angry and make comments about «people robbing her of money».

Relatives have tried to track down the total amount of cash the widow withdrew and believe more than $200,000 has just «disappeared».

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

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The daughter, who was given her mother’s power of attorney, checked her mother’s bank statements for any suspicious transactions.

The woman's family lodged a formal complaint with Westpac and the banking ombudsman, claiming the bank had failed in its duty of care to protect the vulnerable and elderly customer (pictured).

The woman’s family lodged a formal complaint with Westpac and the banking ombudsman, claiming the bank had failed in its duty of care to protect the vulnerable and elderly customer (pictured).

She was shocked to discover that her mother had withdrawn more than $200,000 in cash in the last 18 months of her life.

The statements showed the largest cash withdrawal at the branch was for $24,000 in May 2019.

The daughter said she accompanied her mother on her last trip to the bank and watched as the teller handed over an envelope containing $23,000, even though her mother was not carrying a purse.

She explained that at the time she had no idea of ​​the amount her mother had collected, but remembered the cashier saying it was a large amount of money.

“They let her go without her purse with a Westpac envelope full of money. It was about 8 cm thick,” said the daughter.

The daughter confronted bank staff about the series of large cash withdrawals and claimed she was told she was «too scared» to ask the pensioner why she needed the money.

They allegedly claimed the mum «may have wanted to buy a mobility scooter» for the cash.

The family contacted the police saying that the pensioner was a victim of elder abuse because she lived frugally and there was no indication that she was spending the money on herself.

An investigation was launched and a person of interest was interviewed, but was eventually closed as there was no evidence that the individual had received the money and police could not trace the cash.

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The family has since lodged a formal complaint with the Australian bank, alleging it failed in its duty of care to protect the vulnerable and elderly client.

The complaint alleges Westpac cashiers failed to dispute cash withdrawals despite a vulnerable customer alert being added to her file.

The family also filed a complaint with the banking ombudsman.

In a letter sent to the daughter in May, Westpac described the widowed pensioner as a woman who was «highly respected» at the branch.

An overview of some of the transactions made by the widow before her death on July 30, 2020

An overview of some of the transactions made by the widow before her death on July 30, 2020

The bank said its staff did not believe the woman had «vulnerability» and did not consider any of the withdrawals suspicious.

The letter explained that it was common for mum to withdraw money as it was the way she used her bank account and managed her finances.

Bank staff agreed with the daughter, who said her mother was not someone to ask about her finances.

Westpac said staff questioned the woman «several times» about the reason for the cash withdrawal and that the woman was «confident and savvy with money».

«She was very private about her finances, which her daughter acknowledged … and our staff ultimately acted on her instructions when processing the withdrawals,» Westpac said in a statement to the NZ Herald.

The bank added that tellers were asking more questions about cash withdrawals after February 2020 under an «extra care» code that had been placed on the woman’s account at her daughter’s request.

The elderly woman made three withdrawals totaling $25,000 in March, telling staff she needed the cash due to the Covid-19 lockdown.

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The staff also asked about her final withdrawal of $23,000 and was told she needed a lump sum because she didn’t know when her next branch visit would be.

The staff claimed it was «convenient» for them to hand over the money in the envelope as the woman was with her daughter.

In 2023, Australians aged 65 and over reported more than 72,000 scams, costing victims almost $121 million, according to the ACCC’s Scamwatch.

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