She saw all bank staff as ‘liars and coun­ter­feit­ers’

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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.

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