Cynics might say it’s amazing what a banking royal commission and some media scrutiny can do.
But for whatever reason, elderly English ex-pats Tony and Jill Lewis have finally got some good news after a five-year nightmare which saw them stripped of their life savings by their own son.
Their plight garnered national attention this week with revelations their son Russell — now in jail for fraud and other charges — waved them off on a Christmas holiday to the motherland, then broke into their house while they were still on the plane.
Before they left on the trip, they’d told the Commonwealth Bank their accounts would be idle while they were away, they told A Current Affair this week.
But idle was something their son was not. Not only did he steal items from their home, he also broke into a filing cabinet containing their bank details and Personal Identification Numbers (PINs), and started stripping them of their life savings.
In a spree from December until January, he used their internet banking access to strip almost $50,000 and leave their accounts all but empty.
They returned home not only to a ransacked house, but to discover the bank accounts they warned Commonwealth Bank wouldn’t be used were bare.
Their son was arrested, jailed for three-and-a-half years, but ACA reported their battle had only just begun.
The bank wouldn’t wipe the credit card debt he’d fraudulently run up in their name, despite his fraud conviction.
As Jill told ACA: “If you can’t trust your own bank with your details, who can you trust?”
Adding insult to injury, they said when they told the bank about the fraud, the suggestion was they might have been in on it, suggesting they had given Russell access to their online banking by providing passwords and log-on identities.
Based on that information, the bank wrote to them “it appears to the bank this is a scam”.
The Lewis’ have been trying to convince them otherwise ever since.
When the story surfaced earlier this week, the bank reviewed the case, and has now offered a “goodwill payment” to reimburse them.
“We are sorry for the difficult situation Mr and Mrs Lewis have faced as victims of a crime. It is our intent to help Mr and Mrs Lewis by making a goodwill payment in relation to the fraudulent transactions,” said Commonwealth Bank executive general manager digital Pete Steel in a statement, with a reminder “it’s really important all our customers keep their financial information safe and never store their PINs and passwords in the same place as their account details.”
The couple told ACA the decision means they can finish the house they are building, and continue caring for their son’s daughter, and thanked the bank for helping them “get back on our feet”.
“It’s been a very hard struggle,” said Jill.
But they still want Russell, who, like his parents when they moved to Australia from England when he was 10, did not take up Australian citizenship, deported on his release from jail.
“I never want to see him again,” said Tony.