She saw all bank staff as ‘liars and counterfeiters’
reimbursement. She had withdrawn and spent more than £100,000.
Roy said her money would be returned soon. He added that she would qualify for a payment out of special “police funds” for citizens who aided investigations. He said he had recommended she receive £10,000 for her services.
The ruse might well have continued in a similar vein were it not for HSBC. In early December a branch manager became suspicious and refused to let Mrs J withdraw any more cash.
The manager contacted her daughter, Diane Williams, who realised immediately that her mother had fallen victim to a deception.
Initially Mrs J was so deeply convinced by what Roy had told her that she refused to believe her daughter. It was only when Ms Williams, 54, phoned the police herself and requested that an officer visit her mother that Mrs J finally realised she’d been sucked into an elaborate fraud. By then she had spent or withdrawn £100,500 from HSBC, £25,000 from NatWest, £9,500 from Barclays and £1,500 from her Halifax account, a total of £136,500.
Ms Williams said the scam had had a devastating effect on her mother’s outlook on life, trust in others and physical health. She was also weighed down with guilt.
She said: “She feels my father worked hard his entire life to leave her well provided for, and she ‘ threw it away’. She has lost confidence to speak to strangers on the phone, and the stress of what’s happened seems to have worsened her current frail health.”
Ms Williams and her mother reported the crime to all four banks.
HSBC agreed to refund the £100,500 stolen by the fraudster as a “goodwill gesture”. Halifax also agreed to pay back £1,500 to Mrs J.
But Barclays and, initially at least, NatWest refused to bear the cost. Barclays said staff did “everything they could” to question the withdrawals and that it did eventually contact the police. As the bank had made no error it would not reimburse the £9,500, it said.
Following Telegraph Money’s involvement NatWest agreed to refund Mrs J’s £25,000 as a goodwill gesture.
Martyn James of Resolver, the complaints service, said this type of crime, known as “courier fraud”, was by no means rare but refunds were uncommon.
“No bank is going to repay customers just because they claim it’s the ‘right thing to do’,” he said. “When they do offer reimbursements I’d argue that perhaps bank processes or established safeguards weren’t followed. No bank will ever admit liability – but a goodwill gesture is a way to smooth things over.
“There’s no excuse for this kind of thing happening any more. If people are still being conned in this way, the rules aren’t tight enough.”
Vince Cable, Liberal Democrat leader and MP for Twickenham, one of the towns where Mrs J made withdrawals, said banks needed to put “far more resources into protecting their customers from
‘My mother’s health, outlook on life and trust in others have been badly shaken’
these scams”, which were “growing in number and sophistication”.
The Banking Protocol, an initiative developed by the banks, police and Trading Standards, is supposed to ensure that branch staff are trained to spot victims by asking a series of questions about unusual transactions carried out in the branch. HSBC, which refunded the largest amount, said its branch staff looked out for behaviour that might be out of character when dealing with customers and asked relevant questions to help protect them from fraud.
A spokesman said that where it believed a customer might be a victim it invoked the Banking Protocol, which it did in this case, as well as freezing the account. He said it credited the money back to Mrs J as a gesture of goodwill following a review of her case.
Halifax said its staff questioned Mrs J’s transactions. However, her response did not give them reason to suspect she was a victim. But it felt it “appropriate” to refund the £1,500 she lost.
A Surrey police investigation is under way.
Banks have failed again and again to invest in safeguards against fraud
This newspaper has done much to highlight evolving forms of bank fraud and the life-changing impacts it can have on victims.
We do not have unrealistic expectations of banks. We want banks to be profitable and successful. We understand, too, that banks can be torn between their obligation to carry out customers’ instructions and their requirement to protect customers from crime.
But the campaign we’ve waged in these pages in recent years has highlighted some profound failures by the banking industry. We have repeatedly shown how banks have devoted investment in new technology and staffing to areas where the banks themselves will end up bearing a liability if customers suffer fraud.
By contrast, in circumstances involving fraud but where the banks can shrug off liability, there has been a marked lack of investment – or even basic care.
So, for example, we reported in 2016 on the outrageous case where a customer of First Direct realised she had been tricked into transferring £137,000 to a fraudster’s account. She made the discovery on a Friday evening and phoned the bank at 6.40pm. First Direct later told us that by then its fraud team had “finished for the day”. The bank wasn’t technically liable for its customer’s loss, it seemed to be saying, so why bother to help?
We’ve reported, too, how several banks have been notified of accounts suspected of being used by criminals – and been handed lists of suspect account numbers and sort codes – and yet they have gone on to transfer vast sums of their innocent customers’ money into those very accounts.
The case reported on these pages today is especially cruel. We do not know what bank staff said to the elderly woman as she asked to withdraw her money. What we do know is that unusual and repeat withdrawals were made and that not every bank intervened or notified the police.
Banks can do more. Most fraud follows patterns. Banks must tailor their responses and invest. Banks’ primary job is to safeguard our money.