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TONY HETHERINGTON: Wizz Air settles customer’s case

Last September, I reported how a reader – Ms J.S. – lost a £41,627 inheritance when a cheque made out to her was stolen and then paid into an account at Barclays. The thief had opened an account some months earlier but barely used it. She then simply told Barclays she was changing her name to match the name on the cheque, paid it in, and then withdrew all but a few pounds.

Barclays told Ms S. to contact Action Fraud, but it replied, refusing to investigate on the grounds that it could not see any possible line of enquiry.

This was despite the fact that the bank had a copy of the thief’s driving licence, giving her name and address, and a recent image of her using the bank’s online video service.

I asked Barclays why nobody had noticed that the cheque had been altered with Tippex to erase Ms S’s own bank details and insert the thief’s account number. And I asked why nobody spotted that the thief only changed her name after the date on the cheque. The bank was not happy to give any detailed explanation except to say that it followed its rules.

Well, since then Ms S. has complained to the Financial Ombudsman Service – and she has won her case. The Ombudsman decided that Barclays was negligent in not flagging suspicious activity on the account.

He has ruled: ‘The account was opened with very little activity taking place, followed by an unexpected and uncharacteristic large credit.’

The Ombudsman added that this ‘coupled together with the change of name to that of a different ethnicity two days prior, should have prompted further review.’ And he criticised Barclays for failing to notice that the deed changing the thief’s name was dated after the cheque was written. The bank has now paid Ms S. the full £41,627 plus interest at 8 per cent.

As things stand, the thief and any accomplices have been allowed to keep the stolen money. However, one praiseworthy local policeman is still making enquiries, despite Action Fraud’s rejection of the case. And Ms S. has contacted the Financial Conduct Authority, making the very valid point that it should not be this easy to change the name on a bank account without the same level of checks that are made on a completely new account.

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