Bank unaware of scam and unable to give warning

Categories:
Common scams targeting bank customers
Summary:
Jamie began corresponding with Sarah through an online dating site. After several months, Sarah told him she was moving to Ghana. Later, she emailed him to say her bag and laptop had been stolen when she arrived in Ghana. She asked him to buy a laptop for her. He did so, and sent it to the address Sarah had given.

Sarah began requesting money from Jamie for various reasons. She managed to convince Jamie to call the bank and instruct it to transfer money to an account in Britain, in the name of Zhang. Jamie transferred money to Zhang’s account four times.

When Jamie realised he had been defrauded, he contacted his bank. He believed it should have alerted him to the possibility that he was a victim of fraud and should have prevented the transfer of $43,972 to the account. In Jamie’s view, banks should query customers about transactions involving the transfer of large sums overseas.

The bank said it could not have known the transfers were suspicious, and was not responsible for losses from transactions he had authorised. Jamie asked us to investigate. 

Our investigation

There was no doubt Jamie was a victim of fraud, but we had to determine whether the bank was liable. We were satisfied the bank was unaware Jamie might have been the victim of a scam. The bank could not warn him about something of which it had no knowledge.

The bank was unaware Jamie had met Sarah on an internet dating site. He gave bank staff the impression Sarah was a trusted friend. He gave a plausible explanation about the intended use of the money. When a bank employee queried the transfer to Sarah via Zhang’s account, an unusual practice, he appeared unconcerned. Jamie also said he appreciated that Ghana was not the best place to be sending money.

From the information we reviewed, including phone calls between Jamie and bank staff, it was clear Jamie requested and authorised the payments to the account in Britain. We considered that, even if Jamie had been warned about the possibility of fraud, he would possibly still have made the payments, such was the strength of his belief that Sarah was genuine.

The fraudster, by starting with the transfer of a relatively small amount, had set out to establish a track record between Jamie and Zhang, enabling later and larger transactions to take place without raising bank staff suspicions.

Outcome

We could not uphold the complaint.

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