When people come to see me at my surgeries I do everything I can to help them. No matter what has happened, I am determined to do my best in every case. Frustratingly there are occasions where despite my best efforts there is little I can do. Yet I never forget and always look out for ways to help in the future.
A chance arose last week. The Treasury Select Committee had the opportunity to grill the Payment System Regulator. We asked why they are not doing more to ensure banks protect customers against bank transfer scams.
I raised the case of two constituents who had fallen victim to ruthless fraudsters. Mike Whitehead came to see me some years ago. He had thought he was buying a caravan from what he thought was a legitimate "eBay Motors" account. Yet the account turned out to be fake and he lost £3,500. Similarly, Colin Stromsoy lost a £1,000 deposit trying to buy a car by the same method. I was shocked that ruthless fraudsters were targeting people in this way, depriving them of their hard-earned cash. Yet just as infuriating was that the bank would not take any action to help them retrieve the money.
That's why I made the case to the regulator that banks must do more to help innocent victims of fraud. It has been going on for years and people are starting to wonder why stronger action hasn't been taken to prevent it. Nearly 40,000 people a year on average are being conned out of over £5,000 due to weak, fraud-prone bank payment systems.
The regulator's boss told me that they are currently consulting on a reimbursement model for money lost by fraud. They said people would only get their money back if banks failed to meet required standards. Yet these standards have been put forward by UK Finance, the trading association of the banking sector. This is not good enough. It is like putting foxes in charge of the chicken coop.
The regulator cannot be a paper tiger. It needs to be robust, take banks by the scruff of the neck and be the guardian of consumers against ruthless bank transfer scammers. If it can't step up to the challenge, protection and greater powers should be provided by Parliament through new laws.
This has gone on too long and too many people are being conned – while the fraudsters get away with it. That's why I have written to the Chancellor expressing my serious concerns. I have asked him to consider making banks liable for every scam against their customers and be forced to pay up. The banks would soon get their house in order if they had to reimburse every victim, as is the case for credit card transactions.
We must do all we can to protect people like Mike and Colin from these shameless criminals – and help them get their cash back.
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