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Another fine modern mess

Recently I had an extraordinary brush with the way the digital world works – so remarkable that it invites the comment “You couldn’t make it up!”

It ran as follows (and here I will add that I am avoiding identifying any of the parties in order to protect both the innocent and the less innocent – and also hopefully thereby protecting myself from accusations of defamation).

I have used the professional services of a firm annually for over thirty years. When their latest invoice recently arrived I noticed a statement upon it highlighting that they had recently changed their bank and therefore also the account to which payments should be remitted.

Nervous that I would make a horlicks if I tried to “make the necessary changes” to my account’s list of regular payees by using my bank’s app now resident upon my smartphone, I walked to the local branch of my bank and asked a member of staff to show me how to do this and, if necessary, assist me in making the payment.

He immediately explained that my creditor’s new bank was not “a Premier League” one and therefore certain security checks would have to be undertaken.

One of them was that I should ring the senior partner of the firm concerned immediately and ask him to confirm that his new banking arrangements were “kosher”.

This I did from inside the bank. Said senior partner was somewhat exasperated to learn of the need for such measures – his firm’s accounts had been with my bank since Noah’s Ark was built and he had recently switched to his new bank because of the better terms it offered.

Anyway, with the help of the staffer, I then duly paid the bill of several hundred pounds.

Five minutes after leaving the bank I was then rung by the bank’s fraud prevention department with an automated message that they had detected a potentially fraudulent transaction on my account (the payment of the above-mentioned bill) and would I please urgently ring them to discuss this.

I rang the number and then had to wait twenty minutes hanging on before I received an answer, listening to bland muzak all the while.

When someone finally spoke to me, she announced that their computer system was playing up at the moment and could I ring back again in an hour?

I said I could, but asked if it would it make any difference if I told her that the transaction on my account that they were concerned about was not fraudulent – in fact it had been arranged in my local branch of the bank with the help of a staff member.

She replied no.

I then rang again an hour later and after about another ten minutes hanging on I had a similar conversation with someone about their computer system playing up and would I please ring again another time?

I decided not to.

It seemed to me, if they wanted to talk to me about a possible fraudulent transaction on my account, I shouldn’t have to take responsibility for making periodic phone calls to them – rather, as and when they were ready and able to discuss the matter, they should contact me.

As it happened, the following day I tried to send a gift of £50 via my smartphone – the phone confirmed that the money had gone to the person and account intended, but 24 hours later the intended recipient reported that it had not arrived.

Yesterday therefore I went to my local bank branch again.

The same staffer looked at my account and reported that their fraud department had “stopped” both my payment to my professional adviser and the £50 gift I had sought to send because they regarded my “fraud issue” as ongoing.

The staffer was puzzled.

He could see on his computer that the professional adviser amount had been “stopped” but it had not been returned to my account. He rang (his own bank’s fraud department) and they couldn’t say for sure where the money had gone.

The staffer then asked me to call my professional adviser and ask him if by any chance the money had reached him.

It had – on the day I purported to pay it!

So here’s a recap.

I was now in a position in which I had paid my professional adviser’s bill as intended but my own bank’s fraud prevention department had purported to put a “stop” on it (supposedly being a suspect transaction) and had registered as much on the bank’s computer system – but (1) de facto hadn’t actually put a “stop” on it at all; (2) despite registering on the bank’s computer system that it had “stopped” the payment, didn’t know here the money had gone; and then (3) had subsequently also “stopped” a £50 gift I had sent from my smartphone from reaching the intended recipient!

So that’s another salute to the modern world, then ….


About Gerald Ingolby

Formerly a consumer journalist on radio and television, in 2002 Gerald published a thriller novel featuring a campaigning editor who was wrongly accused and jailed for fraud. He now runs a website devoted to consumer news. More Posts