‘It was appalling’: man sees fraudsters emptying account – but can’t stop them

After the victim was left on hold and cut off, the bank told him it was up to him to try to recover the money

A business manager has described watching helplessly as fraudsters emptied his current account, even as he desperately tried to get through to someone at his bank to stop the theft.

Alerted by a text from Lloyds bank last month warning him that a £4,100 payment was leaving his current account, Adrian Giles* leapt into action and immediately called to halt it.

But rather than freezing his account, he says the bank’s call centre staff insisted that only the fraud department could help, and left him on hold for more than an hour before cutting him off.

Having logged on to his online account, he says he watched in horror as the fraudster, whom he later learned was using Lloyds’ telephone banking system, moved money from his savings and authorised a second payment of another £4,100.

“It was appalling. There was nothing I could seemingly do to stop it,” he says. “Using another phone line I again called Lloyds’ customer services but was told that only the fraud department could deal with it. I don’t understand why Lloyds sends out these alerts if they don’t have the ability to stop such a fraud from taking place.”

Giles’s case is unusual in the fact that rather than sending the money to themselves, the fraudsters instructed the bank to send it to two contractors he had previously paid after building work on his Hertfordshire home.

They could move the money in this way because Lloyds, like other banks, allows customers to make payments to previous payees without the need to go through further security checks.

In his case, the fraudsters immediately contacted the two contractors, pretending to be him. They claimed that the money had been transferred in error and asked for it to be moved back – albeit to a different account that they controlled.

When he was finally able to freeze his account during a third phone call to Lloyds – minus his £8,200 – Giles says he was bemused to be told by bank staff that it was up to him to try to recover the money himself.

Although the first contractor repaid his £4,100 after it established his true identity, the second company owner, unsure as to who was the fraudster and who was the victim, refused to refund either him or the scammers.

“Back I went to Lloyds, expecting them to help recover my money,” he says. “After another two hours on the phone to the fraud department, I was pretty shocked to be told by Lloyds that they had decided they would no longer investigate my case and that they would not reimburse me the £4,100.”

Only after he went to his local branch and refused to move – losing half a day of work and spending another three hours on the phone to the fraud department – did the bank finally agree that he had been the victim of fraud and reimburse him the second £4,100. This money, he argues, should have recalled from the company it was paid to.

“The whole episode has rocked my faith in Lloyds and its security systems. I have never used telephone banking and cannot understand why this aspect of my user profile had not immediately alerted Lloyds to potential fraudulent activity.

“Why did they not immediately freeze the bank account when I called up? Lloyds refused to view all of this as fraudulent activity and would not get involved in retrieving my money. Instead, staff tried to pressure me into admitting that I may have supplied other people with my details so that they could access my account. I am a 31-year-old professional with a master’s degree and I know how to avoid banking scams. When I explicitly said that there was no way I was involved in compromising my security details, Lloyds said that this was the end of the case.”

A Lloyds spokesman says the bank has undertaken a full review of the case, including listening to the recordings of all the conversations involved. He confirmed that the bank’s general customer service staff are unable to block accounts.

“Helping keep our customers’ money safe is our priority and we have a great deal of sympathy for our customer who was the victim of a scam. As part of our review of this case, we recognise that our service fell below our usual standards when he reported the scam to us and we will be offering a payment in recognition of the distress and inconvenience this has caused.”

* Not his real name

What to do if an unexpected payment lands in your account

Giles’s case raises some interesting questions. What should you do if someone unexpectedly pays a large sum into your account? Is it worth deleting old payees that you won’t use again?

Reports suggest that fraudsters adopting this technique tend to make the payments to contractors or small companies who are unlikely to remember their clients too well. They will hope to catch busy people who will send the money on, without stopping to think too much about any consequences.

UK Finance, which represents the banks, advises people on the receiving end of such a payment not to repay the money – unless they are sure of the original sender’s identity. And then to only pay it back to the account from which it came. You should never refund the money into a new account, it says.

If in doubt, contact your bank using the number on the back of your card, and don’t entertain anyone who calls or contacts you claiming to have mistakenly paid you, it warns.

The emergence of this fraud has led some people to log on to their online banking and delete any payee they are unlikely to use again. The only downside to such a move is that you have to set up a new payee if you ever change your mind to employ them again – however, that is not overly onerous.

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