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Million dollar scam: The victims and the young, female Auckland mule

Author
Lane Nichols,
Publish Date
Fri, 19 Apr 2024, 7:07am

Million dollar scam: The victims and the young, female Auckland mule

Author
Lane Nichols,
Publish Date
Fri, 19 Apr 2024, 7:07am

A retired South Island cop and a Northland pensioner lost at least $300,000 in a large-scale fraud linked to a young Auckland mother whose banks accounts were used to launder more than $1 million in stolen cash.  

The pair lost their retirement savings in late 2022 after searching online for “safe” investment opportunities and being contacted by scammers posing as professional financial advisers.  

The former policeman sank more than $250,000 into the scheme. He thought he was investing in Government-backed green energy bonds with Australian firm Macquarie Asset Management. But it was all a lie and he lost everything. 

“It was very upsetting of course,” he told the Herald. 

“My wife wasn’t happy about it and still isn’t. 

“We’re lucky that we’re still managing to live a comfortable life but it could have been much more comfortable.” 

The retirees are among 10 Kiwi victims who sent money to accounts at three different banks under the name CEB Holdings Ltd, which were set up by the company’s sole director Aimee Rodda in 2022. 

The mule, the victim and the private investigator. How did 10 victims lose $1m to an elaborate scam? Aimee Rodda (inset top) opened the accounts, Rodney Mathers (centre) lost $100,000, and private investigator Nick Mayer (inset-right) unravelled the elaborate offshore scam, which involved a Nigerian man who stayed at Auckland's Heritage Hotel. Photo / Main - File, Inset top - Supplied, Inset middle and Right - NZME                                                             
The mule, the victim and the private investigator. How did 10 victims lose $1m to an elaborate scam? Aimee Rodda (inset top) opened the accounts, Rodney Mathers (centre) lost $100,000, and private investigator Nick Mayer (inset-right) unravelled the elaborate offshore scam, which involved a Nigerian man who stayed at Auckland's Heritage Hotel. Photo / Main - File, Inset top - Supplied, Inset middle and Right - NZME 

She told police she was asked to open the accounts by a Nigerian man she met in an Auckland bar. She said she gave him full control of those accounts, thinking she was part of a legitimate cryptocurrency venture. 

Police had been preparing to prosecute Rodda for money laundering. But after a year-long investigation, they now say she was “deceived” and won’t face charges. 

The Herald has spoken to four of the 10 victims. They include North Shore businessman Rodney Mathers who lost $100,000 in October 2022 and New Zealand First candidate David Wilson, who lost $200,000 the following month. 

NZ First candidate David Wilson lost $200,000 in a scam. He is speaking publicly to highlight failures in the banking system. Photo / Michael Craig  

Wilson called Kiwibank to check whether his funds had gone to the intended recipient but bank staff would only confirm it was a “legitimate” account. Six weeks later police informed him his money was lost in a scam. 

He has hit out at the banking regulatory system, saying systemic failures are enabling criminals to steal hundreds of millions of dollars through a deficient bank payment network while victims shoulder the blame. 

“This is endemic. This is our system which is failing on all fronts.” 

‘If I said quarter of a million dollars it would be at least that.’ 

A few months before being scammed, the ex-South Island cop was involved in a serious accident which affected his decision-making. 

The man, who asked not to be named, said the so-called investment adviser who contacted him was highly skilled and extremely convincing. 

The investment was touted as being backed by the Australian Government and tax-free due to the country’s international climate obligations. 

The man was sent payment instructions for a “holding account” at Kiwibank, which he though was odd and the only “alarm bell”. 

However, he assumed the “subsidiary” account was a quirk of the banking system and went ahead. 

Asked how much he invested, he replied: “If I said quarter of a million dollars it would be at least that.” 

Aimee Rodda opened three bank accounts under her company's name which were then used by international criminals to launder more than $1m in stolen money. Police say she was deceived and won't face criminal charges. Photo / FacebookAimee Rodda opened three bank accounts under her company's name which were then used by international criminals to launder more than $1m in stolen money. Police say she was deceived and won't face criminal charges. Photo / Facebook 

He sent the money in seven online transfers from his TSB account on December 12, 2022. A TSB employee called to check the money transfers were “kosher”, the man said. Convinced it was a legitimate, he gave TSB the all clear. 

He only realised he’d been scammed weeks later when he tried to invest more money in the bogus scheme but the adviser’s phone number was dead. 

In hindsight he wished he’d done more due diligence. 

“Unfortunately what I hadn’t done is actually phone the Macquarie company and make sure it was a legitimate investment.” 

While TSB declined liability, he did not blame the company for his loss. But he is angry at Kiwibank for harbouring a money mule and enabling the scam. 

He was frustrated that retail banks were allowing domestic accounts to receive stolen money then “happily transferring hundreds of thousands of dollars overseas” without any apparent monitoring or sanctions. 

A TSB spokeswoman said the seven payments were made online without staff assistance. Multi-factor authentication security checks were completed “so no alert was raised”. 

After being alerted to the scam in late January 2023, TSB instigated a full fraud response including unsuccessful attempts to recover the funds. 

As the victim did not make a formal complaint to TSB, he was not notified about the option of escalating complaints to the Banking Ombudsman. 

While TSB was “saddened” about the victim’s experience, as he had authorised the payments the bank would not reimburse his loss. 

Kiwibank told the Herald it was “extremely concerned” that fraudsters were tricking customers into becoming money mules to enable criminal offending. 

Kiwibank was working with other banks to fight fraud and scams. The first phase of a coordinated Anti-Scam Centre was already sharing information to reduce fraudulent payments, with nearly 1500 mule accounts identified so far. 

‘How could I have been so silly?’ 

A Northland woman in her 70s who lost $50,000 said it was “very upsetting” to learn she and her husband had been scammed. 

“I just felt very stupid. ‘How could I have been so silly’.” 

The couple lost money through a similar green bond scam - this one using the name BNP Paribas - sending funds to another CEB Holdings account at ANZ bank. 

They transferred the money on September 19, 2022 - writing “BNP Paribas” in the payment reference field. 

By chance, it was the same day the Financial Markets Authority (FMA) issued a public warning about a fake BNP Paribas clean energy bonds scam. 

The couple only realised they’d been duped in June 2023 when an investment expert identified the fraud. 

They were shocked to learn of the FMA warning from the Herald and felt Kiwibank should have been on notice. 

“You would think they could have stopped it immediately. You would think they would get early warning of scams.” 

The woman said the scammer had a regional English accent from an area where she also grew up and it was “hard to believe that guy was a robber”. 

She said the man would never be satisfied and her money wouldn’t bring him happiness. 

While the couple had more funds set aside, losing $50,000 had impacted their retirement. 

“It has changed our way of life. Before we would have gone away for a weekend or gone out for the odd meal. Now we feel vulnerable. It is very upsetting.” 

The Herald asked Kiwibank why the payment reference to BNP Paribas did not prompt further scrutiny given the FMA warning that day. 

A spokeswoman responded: “We have systems in place to monitor for suspicious activity. However, the details provided by [the victim] for the transfer on 19 September did not alert our fraud detection system.” 

A two-factor authentication security check was completed before the payment was processed, she said. 

Kiwibank tried unsuccessfully to recover the money from ANZ after being alerted to the fraud, and had encouraged the victim to report the crime to police and FMA. 

 

 

 

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. 

This article was originally published on the NZ Herald here. 

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