A guarded message on your phone asks you to visit a branch of your bank. When you get there, it’s bad news. Multiple fraudulent transactions have been made on your account, payments that the bank has permitted to go through. Then everything gets even worse: the bank says you are to blame for allowing your password, Pin or other information to find its way into criminals’ possession.
This is the nightmarish – and increasingly common – scenario in which Trevor Smith found himself in February. A fraudster posing as Mr Smith contacted TSB and told the bank he was moving from his home in Wimborne, Dorset, to Portsmouth. A new card and other details were requested and the bank, satisfied that the request was genuine, sent them.
Unknown to Mr Smith, 53, who works for a transport business, the fraudster swiftly set about logging into the account online where he or she applied for a loan of £9,800 and moved £7,400 cash Isa savings, also with TSB, into the current account. The loan was granted and savings moved.
Just days later, around the weekend of February 15-16, the account was drained in a blizzard of spending and cash withdrawals. Most transactions were in south-east London, including two purchases totalling £2,500 at a jewellery store in Lewisham and, astonishingly, a transaction for £3,985 at a “café” in Elephant & Castle. There were six further payments for £200, two more for £1,500, and many other withdrawals, some linked to addresses in Greenwich, Woolwich and in the Thames Estuary area.
At the time, Mr Smith and his wife, who have had the same joint account for 26 years, were entirely unaware of the crime. Their account statement later showed that while the fraudster was on a spree in London, the Smiths were making their own modest purchases at everyday outlets such as Boots and Sainsbury’s, back in Dorset. It was early the next week, as the rogue payments started to hit the account, that TSB contacted Mr Smith. By then it was too late and £35,000 had gone.
Initially the bank was sympathetic. Then its stance hardened. It took the view there was no way the fraud could have occurred without Mr Smith having compromised the security of his account, and made clear it would not help find or return the money.
What followed was a “nightmare which has brought me close to tears of frustration and desperation”, said Mr Smith, who contacted the police and also wasted no time in taking matters to the Financial Ombudsman Service.
Because of the loan fraudulently taken out in his name, TSB started to demand repayments, including making numerous calls to Mr Smith in the evenings and at weekends. At the end of last week it issued two final letters threatening legal action unless the money was repaid within a fortnight.
Mr Smith then contacted Telegraph Money. Within two days of our inquiries, TSB changed tack. It repaid the money and unwound the loan arrangement. But it maintained that he was to blame, saying: “The fraudster managed to change the address on Mr Smith’s account through telephone banking after correctly being verified, which suggests he had managed to obtain key information about your reader.