Bank teller stole $28,000 from customers

File photo: RNZ
File photo: RNZ
A bank teller who stole more than $28,000 from customers to prop up her gambling addiction chose her victims carefully – they did not use internet banking and were either elderly or had health issues.

Carine Gwen Tamayo Tumapang worked at the Bell Block branch of TSB Bank in New Plymouth from May 2022 until October 2023.

In the last two months of her employment, the 28-year-old stole money from four customers, with the thefts only being discovered when one of them queried receiving a letter about money being withdrawn from a dormant account.

Inquiries were made by the bank’s financial crime and intelligence manager and Tumapang was subsequently charged with eight counts of accessing a computer system for dishonest purposes and one of using a document for pecuniary advantage.

Her actions were captured on the bank’s CCTV in which she was seen counting $50 notes from her teller drawer and placing them into a canvas banking bag, with no customer at her counter.

Last week, she appeared in the New Plymouth District Court before Judge Gregory Hikaka, who said Tumapang was in a trusted position at the only locally-owned bank in the country.

He said the bank had "a really good reputation" and the offending was so serious that it warranted a starting point of imprisonment.

According to the summary of facts, Tumapang began pilfering cash on August 11 last year.

On that date, she processed a withdrawal of $350 from the account of an 84-year-old man with a long-term cognitive impairment and then set the account to "inactive".

He was not in the bank when the withdrawal was made and did not give Tumapang, who coded it as "cash withdrawal", authority to complete the transaction. This was her modus operandi going forward.

One week later, Tumapang withdrew $1000 from another account owned by the same man, and on September 15 she took $2000, then $4000 on September 22.

On September 27, the man went into the branch and was served by Tumapang.

He filled out a bank slip to withdraw $2000, asking for $1400 to be transferred into a relative’s account and for the remaining $600 to be paid in cash.

Tumapang completed those transactions but dishonestly amended the slip’s monetary figure to read $3000, and paid herself the additional $1000.

Another customer, an 80-year-old woman with significant health issues, had $2500 stolen from her account by Tumapang on September 1, and a third target – a couple – had the most significant amount taken.

Without authority from the couple, Tumapang withdrew $8000 from their account on October 2, coding the transaction "to premier".

But she did not transfer the money to their premier account, instead taking the cash.

Tumapang repeated the action on October 16, though this time she took $8602.10 from their term investment account.

The final victim, a 73-year-old man, had $834.70 stolen by Tumapang from an account he was unaware existed, after opening it when he was in high school.

His wife had gone into the bank to query a letter sent to him stating the funds in his dormant bank account would be forwarded to Inland Revenue if unclaimed.

Tumapang was unable to find the account at that point and told the wife to disregard the letter but later, on October 11, she accessed the account and took the man’s money.

The victim later received a second letter from TSB Bank about the account and his wife returned to query it.

This time she spoke with another worker who noticed the withdrawal and referred the matter to the assistant branch manager.

Tumapang had left her job at TSB before the fraudulent activity was discovered.

The total amount she stole was $28,286.80 and the bank has since refunded all the victims.

Supervision won’t cut it

In court, Tumapang, who admitted all charges, appeared for sentencing.

Defence lawyer Sam Hunt argued for an outcome of supervision but the police prosecutor, Detective Sergeant Dave McKenzie, submitted it was not punitive enough.

Hunt said Tumapang has no criminal history, had repaid TSB Bank in full, attended restorative justice with bank representatives, was engaged in counselling and was genuinely remorseful.

She said the offending would never have happened if not for Tumapang’s gambling addiction, and she was addressing that issue.

However, McKenzie said a significant amount of money was taken and Tumapang’s actions were premeditated and were a breach of trust, and the victims were vulnerable.

Judge Hikaka agreed with McKenzie and said Tumapang took a callous and cruel approach to her offending by "carefully selecting victims".

"It’s clear that you picked your victims. Elderly, some with cognitive issues, and people who did not have online internet banking, because they preferred face-to-face contact with someone they thought they could trust.

"Your breach of trust is significant."

The judge said one of the victims was "shocked and mortified".

He said supervision did "not cut it at all given the carefully planned, premeditated dishonesty" of her offending.

Hunt emphasised prison was not warranted in Tumapang’s circumstances and if an electronically monitored sentence were imposed, only community detention would be appropriate.

But she said an adjournment would be needed so an address could be found for such a sentence.

Judge Hikaka tossed up between sentencing Tumapang to jail with leave to apply for an electronically monitored sentence or to adjourn the matter.

He entered the convictions and settled on remanding her on bail for sentence in September to allow time for an address to be sorted.

 - Tara Shaskey, Open Justice reporter