Financial crime is the personal finance scourge of our times.
A crime inflicting misery on thousands of people every year and one that we need to do much more to eradicate and fight against. It is undermining the integrity of the financial services industry, especially the banking sector.
This crime is the one recurring theme in my mailbag at The Mail on Sunday, and as things stand – codes or no codes – the odds are very much stacked against victims.
Unless you are very lucky, there is little you can do as a targeted customer but suck your thumb and suffer the losses. It does not just affect the elderly, but the young, the financially sophisticated and the successful. Businesses, students and long-standing customers.
Earlier this month, I was contacted by a woman whose step-mother had been a victim of so called ‘financial grooming’ – encouraged by someone (maybe a carer, a relative or someone they trust) to make a large cash withdrawal on their behalf. Although I am battle hardened, it is one of the worst financial crimes I have reported on for a while.
The step-mother, aged 89, suffers from Alzheimer’s disease and has home care assistance. In August, she was befriended by ‘builders’ (I use that term loosely) who proceeded to do little by way of work. Preying on her illness, these vile groomers drove the vulnerable lady to the local Barclays branch so she could withdraw money for them – not just once, but on three separate occasions.
First £300, by ATM. Then, presumably because it was so easy, they got her to go into the branch and withdraw another £7,000.
Although the bank staff were suspicious and followed her out of the branch and saw her get into the van – and noted down the number on the (stolen) registration number plate – the crime had been committed. The greedy groomers brought her back a third time but this time the bank did what they should have done second time around and alerted the police.
By the time they arrived, the criminals had long hit the accelerator pedal and raced off to the hills, never to be seen again.
Despicable as the crime was (God help anyone who did something similar to my mother), it is the bank’s response to this whole episode that sticks in the craw. Since August, it refused repeatedly to accept any blame for the lack of care it afforded this vulnerable lady.
This is despite the fact that a) the woman had no history of making large cash withdrawals; b) the £7,000 withdrawal meant she had less than £450 left in her account; and worst of all c) the step-daughter was named as attorney on the bank account but was not told about the £7,000 withdrawal until after the money had left her mother’s account.