Tony Hetherington is the Financial Mail on Sunday’s investigator, battling readers’ corners, exposing the truth behind closed doors and winning victories for those who have been left behind. Find out how to contact him below.
Mrs JS writes: My aunt died and I received a check for £41,627 from the solicitors who administered her estate.
I posted this to my bank, First Direct, as they have no branches. The payment was not showing in my account and the lawyers say it was deposited into a Barclays account that someone had opened.
Barclays admits the account is fraudulent and has frozen it, but is unwilling to refund the money.
No refund: the check was deposited in a Barclays account
Tony Hetherington responds: First Direct confirmed that the check never arrived at its Leeds offices.
It looks like it was stolen after you posted it.
But you had taken the precaution of giving instructions on the back of the cheque, saying it should only be accepted in your own sort code and First Direct account number, and you signed it.
On top of that you have what is perhaps a unique name in this country.
I checked all sorts of sources, including electoral records, and your name is unique.
So how did a thief manage to open an account with Barclays in your name and then deposit your £41,627?
The answer is incredibly simple. She opened an account months ago, left it dormant and after getting her hands on the stolen check she told Barclays she had decided to change her name.
The thief has become you, as far as the bank is concerned. And once the check had cleared, all but around £50 was quickly withdrawn.
Barclays’ advice was that you should contact Action Fraud, which you did, and you received a response from the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau.
He said: ‘On this occasion, based on the information currently available, it has not been possible to identify a line of inquiry which a law enforcement organization in the UK could pursue.
What waste. The woman who opened the Barclays account produced her driving license as proof of her identity. She gave her address. And in addition to copying his license, including his photo,
Barclays has a recent photo of her when she used the bank’s online video services. If all of this doesn’t count as an investigative lead, then God knows what does.
Barclays’ other advice was that since the lawyers’ check had been issued by the Royal Bank of Scotland, it was up to RBS to open “an interbank investigation” which would involve both First Direct and Barclays.
But you are not the RBS customer. So you had to ask the executors to ask the lawyers to ask RBS.
Well, you tried, but the lawyers were told it had nothing to do with RBS, whose staff had no idea what an “interbank investigation” was. Their feeling was that Barclays was just driving you around in circles.
And it’s hard to disagree. The check Barclays accepted has been altered by Tippex to conceal your First Direct account details and insert the fraudster’s account number with Barclays.
And the recent video photo of the fraudster may not be the person depicted on the driver’s license, unless they are significantly aged.
I asked Barclays to comment on all of this, but they declined to discuss the fraudster’s account for privacy reasons.
Even scammers and thieves have a right to privacy, it seems. Barclays would leak all of its information to the police, but that’s no use as Action Fraud has already refused to act.
So I tried different questions. Why didn’t anyone at Barclays notice that the check had been Tippexed and altered?
Why didn’t anyone at Barclays notice that the fraudster didn’t change her name until after the date the lawyers issued the check in her “new” name?
And when a customer says they want to change their name, does Barclays verify this by asking to see a new driver’s license or perhaps utility bills showing the new name?
The answers, it seems, are that no one pays attention to the back of the check, and most likely not even the front.
A spokesperson was happy to tell me that “Barclays complies with all regulatory and legal requirements and has a robust identity and verification process” when a new account is opened.
But the bank was less happy to explain what happens when that customer changes their name.
UK Finance – the banks’ trade body – confirmed the lack of strict regulations on name changes, telling me it’s up to the banks to decide what proof they need.
They can even content themselves with a single sheet of paper on which the client announces that he is changing his name by notarial deed, provided that it is accompanied by at least one other supporting document in the new name.
Whether or not Barclays demanded such evidence remains unknown. But even if it was, changing a name is so easy – and free – that the theft of your check exposed a huge flaw in the system.
Nobody’s account is safe unless the banks tighten their regulations and put humans back in the check clearing process, because their machines and computers obviously don’t recognize Tippex when they see it.
The trip to Nice went to the dogs
Mrs LF writes: I booked our dogs to be transported to Nice with easyPet, as we traveled to France separately.
Then our vet said that if we weren’t driving the animals to Nice, the easyPet driver had to be present at a meeting with the vet when issuing the necessary animal health certificate.
I checked with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and they confirmed that the person responsible for pets must be present if the owner is not present.
EasyPet said it would be impossible for drivers to visit all the vets so we canceled our trip.
Nice to Nice: vet said easyPet driver must be present at a meeting with the vet when issuing the necessary animal health certificate
Tony Hetherington replies: It comes down to exactly what Defra’s advice means and how your vet interpreted it.
According to Defra, when the animal’s health certificate is completed, allowing it to cross borders, the person responsible for the animal must be present if the owner is unable to attend.
But this does not mean that the person present with the animal must be the same person who actually drives the animal out of the country.
In short, you could take your dogs to the vet to get their health certificates and then hand them over to the easyPet driver. In the end, your vet is wrong and I’m sorry it ruined your trip to France.
If you believe you have been the victim of financial wrongdoing, write to Tony Hetherington at the Financial Mail, 2 Derry Street, London W8 5TS or email email@example.com. Due to the high volume of inquiries, no personal response can be given. Please only send copies of original documents, which we regret cannot return.
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