Mr M was the victim of an elaborate scam, handing over
more than a quarter of a million pounds to scammers.
In Mr M’s case, he saw an advert for a company called Interabroker, which offered stock trading services; it appeared to be endorsed by a celebrity, so he clicked on the ad and completed an enquiry form.
Mr M was contacted by Interabroker and persuaded to invest. He was given access to an online trading platform, could see his investment and was able to make a small withdrawal from the account. All seemed in order.
A common tactic deployed by investment scammers is to apply pressure to invest more money, even if your initial investment value has fallen. After three payments (each less than £5000) made using his debit card, Mr M was persuaded to transfer a total of £90,000 by bill payment – the same month – and over £145,000 by international transfer over the next six months or so, all from his HSBC bank account.
Mr M became suspicious about the investment and Interabroker and made a complaint with HSBC.
HSBC was unable to recover the initial payments Mr M had made by debit card, as the time limit imposed by the chargeback scheme had passed.
Even though Mr M accepted he had authorised the payments from his HSBC account, he was unhappy that the bank did not do more to prevent the scam from taking place. He took his complaint to the Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS), the UK’s financial dispute resolution service.
APP fraud is, disappointingly, on the rise, with over £485 million reportedly lost to scams in 2022. APP Fraud victims are tricked into sending money to a fraudster, in the belief that they are investing in a genuine product or sending money to a trusted professional. There are many different types of APP fraud scams – Mr M was the victim of an investment scam. Other scams include crypto scams, romance scams and impersonation scams.
The starting point of the investigation by the Financial Ombudsman Service was that whilst Mr M had authorised the payments to Interabroker, it also to examine what his bank could have done to protect him and his money.
There have been a number of important decisions from FOS about banks’ responsibilities to their customers, particularly in relation to preventing scams from happening in the first place. As heavily regulated financial industry experts, Banks have a duty of care to monitor customers’ accounts, to ask more questions about the purpose of a pending payment, and in turn, they have powers to delay or even block payments they believe to be of concern.
The Ombudsman looked at payments leaving Mr M’s account in the 12-month period before the scam payments were made. While there were a number of large payments, all were obviously attributable, for example, a house purchase, a new car, and double glazing. However, there was no history or pattern of paying new payees large amounts more than once on the same day. The payments to the scammer should therefore have raised a red flag at the bank. Two more payments went through two days later, to the same payee, and the bank did not think it was out of character or step in to ask more questions.
The Ombudsman commented that, had HSBC stepped in at that point, they would likely have uncovered the possibility of a scam and been able to warn Mr M about the payments he was making. The Ombudsman also commented that Mr M could not have reasonably known that he was investing in a scam or that the trading balance he was able to see on his investment account was likely to be fake. Scammers often use simulation accounts, which look like real trading accounts, but don’t actually trade in real money. They simply take the money and run.
Following FOS’ investigation, HSBC was ordered to refund Mr M in full, plus 8% interest. The Ombudsman was clear in pointing out that, at the time Mr M was scammed, the City watchdog, the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), had already issued warnings about scams of this type and HSBC should have had measures in place to step in and protect Mr M’s money.
Commenting on the FOS decision, Sarah Spruce, Legal Director and Head of the Professional Negligence team at TLW Solicitors, said:
“In this particular case, the Ombudsman talks about unusual transactions, namely daily high amounts to a new payee, and he also talks about celebrity endorsements; both are typical warning signs of a scam. HSBC could and should have done more to protect this customer’s money.
The specialist TLW APP fraud team and I regularly see cases like this. And we are keen to reassure anyone who has been scammed in this way that they are not alone – they shouldn’t feel embarrassed or ashamed about coming forward and asking for help.”
If you think that you or a loved one have been the victim of a push payment fraud, it is important that you advise the police (via the Action Fraud website) and your bank. It may lead to a criminal investigation by the police, but your bank will also investigate your complaint.
Our team has many years of experience dealing with banks and the Financial Ombudsman Service. We understand the legal jargon, the information needed, and the time limits involved. There are claims and appeals processes and we can help you navigate them.
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