Tony Hetherington is the ace investigator on Sunday’s Financial Mail, fighting readers’ corners, revealing the truth that lies behind closed doors and securing victory for those left out of pocket. Learn how to contact him below.
Ms JS writes: My aunt died and I received a check for £41,627 from the lawyers managing her estate.
I posted this to my bank First Direct, as it doesn’t have any branches. The payment didn’t come to my account and solicitor says it was deposited in Barclays account which was opened by someone.
Barclays acknowledged that the account was fraudulent and froze it, but is unwilling to return the money.
No refund: Check was deposited in Barclays account
Tony Hetherington replies: First Direct has confirmed that the check never arrived at its offices in Leeds. Looks like it got stolen after you posted it. But you were careful to put instructions on the back of the check, saying that it should only be accepted in your first Direct Sort Code and account number, and you signed it. On top of that, you have what is probably a unique name in this country. I checked all kinds of sources, including electoral registers, and your name is one-off.
So how did a thief manage to open an account with Barclays in your name, and then collect your £41,627?
The answer is surprisingly simple. He opened an account months ago, left it inactive, and after getting his hands on the stolen check, he told Barclays that he had decided to change his name. As far as the bank was concerned, the thief became you. And after the check was cleared, all but about £50 were quickly withdrawn.
Barclays’ advice was that you should contact Action Fraud, which you did, and you got a response from the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau. It said: ‘On this occasion, based on the information currently available, it is not possible to identify a line of investigation that a law enforcement organization in the United Kingdom may pursue.’
what rubbish. The woman who opened the Barclays account presented her driving license as proof of her identity. He gave his address. and also to make a copy of his license along with his photograph,
Barclays has a recent photo of him when he used the bank’s online video services. If all this doesn’t count as one line of inquiry, heaven knows what does. Barclays’ other advice was that since the solicitor’s check was issued by the Royal Bank of Scotland, it was up to RBS to initiate ‘an inter-bank investigation’ involving both First Direct and Barclays.
But you are not an RBS customer. So you had to ask the executors to ask the solicitors to ask the RBS. Well, you tried, but the solicitors were told it had nothing to do with RBS, whose employees didn’t know what ‘an inter-bank investigation’ could be. His feeling was that Barclays was just giving you a run.
And it’s hard to disagree. Checks accepted by Barclays have been replaced with tipex covering your first direct account details and putting the fraudster’s account number at Barclays. And the most recent video photograph of the fraudster may not be of the person depicted on the driver’s license, unless he is clearly of his age.
I asked Barclays to comment on all of this, but it declined to discuss the fraudster’s account on grounds of confidentiality. It seems that even crooks and thieves have a right to privacy. Barclays will release all of its information to the police, but it is of no use when Action Fraud has already refused to act.
So I tried different queries. Why didn’t anyone at Barclays notice that the check was tipped and replaced? Why didn’t anyone at Barclays notice that the fraudster had changed his name to his ‘new’ name only after the date the check was issued? And when a customer says they want to change their name, does Barclays confirm it by asking for a new driver’s license or perhaps a utility bill showing the new name?
The answer, it seems, is that no one pays attention to the back of the check, and probably not even the front. A spokesperson is pleased to inform me that, ‘Barclays complies with all regulatory and legal requirements and has a robust identification and verification process’ when a new account is opened. But the bank was less happy to explain what happens when a customer changes his name.
UK Finance – the banks’ trade body – confirmed the lack of strong regulations on name changes, telling me it is for banks to decide what proof they need. They can also settle for a sheet of paper on which the customer declares that they are changing their name by deed poll, as long as the new name is accompanied by at least one other piece of evidence.
Whether Barclays demanded such proof is unknown. But even if it did, changing the name is so easy and free that the theft of your check has exposed massive loopholes in the system. Nobody’s account is safe until banks tighten their rules and put humans back into the check clearing process because their machines and computers don’t clearly recognize the tippecks when they see it.
Trip to Nice went to the dogs
Ms LF writes: I booked our dogs with Easypet to take them to Nice while we traveled to France separately. Then our vet said that if we were not taking the animals to Nice, Easy Pet Driver was required to attend a meeting with the vet if the necessary animal health certificate was issued.
I checked with the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and they confirmed that the person responsible for the pet needs to be present if the owner is not present.
EasyPet said it would be impossible for drivers to go to every vet, so we canceled our trip.
NICE IN NICE: The vet said that the Easypet driver was required to be present at the meeting with the vet when the required animal health certificate was issued
Tony Hetherington replies: What it comes down to is the exact meaning of Defra’s advice, and how your vet interprets it. According to Defra, when a pet’s health certificate is completed, allowing it to cross the border, the person responsible for the animal must be present if the owner cannot be present.
But this does not mean that the person accompanying the animal should be the one who actually took the pet out of the country.
In short, you can take your dogs to the vet to get their health certificates and then hand them over to Easy Pet Driver. The bottom line is that your vet is wrong, and I’m sorry it spoiled your trip to France.
If you believe you have been the victim of financial misconduct, write to Tony Hetherington at Financial Mail, 2 Derry Street, London W8 5TS or email. [email protected] Due to the high volume of inquiries, individual answers cannot be given. Please send only copies of original documents, which we regret are non-returnable.