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TONY HETHERINGTON: Cheque for £41,627 is stolen after a reputation change

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Tony Hetherington is Financial Mail on Sunday’s ace investigator, fighting readers corners, revealing the reality that lies behind closed doors and winning victories for many who have been left out-of-pocket. Discover tips on how to contact him below. 

Ms J.S. writes: My aunt died and I received a cheque for £41,627 from the solicitors who administered her estate. 

I posted this to my bank, First Direct, because it has no branches. The payment didn’t appear in my account and the solicitors say it was deposited right into a Barclays account someone had opened.

Barclays admits the account is fraudulent and it has frozen it, however it is just not willing to refund the cash. 

No refund: The cheque was deposited right into a Barclays account

Tony Hetherington replies: First Direct has confirmed that the cheque never arrived at its offices in Leeds. It appears to have been stolen after you posted it. But you had taken the precaution of giving instructions on the back of the cheque, saying it should only be accepted into your personal First Direct sort code and account number, and also you signed this. On top of this, you have got what is probably a novel name on this country. I checked all kinds of sources, including electoral registers, and your name is a one-off.

So how did a thief manage to open an account with Barclays in your name, after which deposit your £41,627? 

The reply is stunningly easy. She opened an account months ago, left it dormant, and after getting her hands on the stolen cheque, she told Barclays she had decided to alter her name. The thief became you, so far as the bank was concerned. And after the cheque was cleared, all but about £50 was quickly withdrawn. 

Barclays’ advice was that it’s best to contact Motion Fraud, which you probably did, and also you received a reply from the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau. It said: ‘On this occasion, based on the data currently available, it has not been possible to discover a line of enquiry which a law enforcement organisation in the UK could pursue.’ 

What rubbish. The girl who opened the Barclays account produced her driving licence as proof of her identity. She gave her address. And in addition to copying her licence, including her photograph, 

Barclays has a recent picture of her when she used the bank’s online video services. If all this doesn’t count as a line of enquiry, then heaven knows what does. Barclays’ other piece of recommendation was that because the solicitors’ cheque was issued by the Royal Bank of Scotland, it was as much as RBS to open ‘an inter-bank investigation’ that might involve each First Direct and Barclays. 

But you will not be the RBS customer. So that you needed to ask the executors to ask the solicitors to ask RBS. Well, you tried, however the solicitors were told that every one this had nothing to do with RBS, whose staff had no idea what ‘an inter-bank investigation’ is likely to be. Their feeling was that Barclays was just supplying you with the run-around. 

And it is difficult to disagree. The cheque that Barclays accepted has been altered with Tippex to cover up your First Direct account details and insert the fraudster’s account number at Barclays. And the recent video picture of the fraudster is probably not the person pictured on the driving licence, unless she has aged noticeably. 

I asked Barclays to comment on all this, however it refused to debate the fraudster’s account on privacy grounds. Even crooks and thieves have a right to confidentiality, it seems. Barclays would release all its information to the police, but that’s little use when Motion Fraud has already refused to take motion. 

So I attempted different questions. Why did no one at Barclays spot that the cheque had been Tippexed and altered? Why did no one at Barclays spot that the fraudster had only modified her name after the date the solicitors issued the cheque in her ‘recent’ name? And when a customer says they need to alter their name, does Barclays confirm this by asking to see a recent driving licence or perhaps utility bills showing the brand new name? 

The answers, it seems, are that no one takes any notice of the back of the cheque, and quite possibly not even the front. A spokesman was blissful to inform me that, ‘Barclays complies with all regulatory and legal requirements and has a strong identity and verification process’ when a recent account is opened. However the bank was less blissful to clarify what happens when that customer changes his or her name. 

UK Finance – the banks’ trade body – confirmed the dearth of strong regulations on name changes, telling me that it’s as much as banks to determine what proof they need. They may even accept a single sheet of paper on which the client proclaims they’re changing their name by deed poll, so long as it’s accompanied by a minimum of one other piece of evidence in the brand new name. 

Whether or not Barclays demanded such evidence stays unknown. But even when it did, changing a reputation is really easy – and free – that the theft of your cheque has exposed a large loophole within the system. No one’s account is secure unless the banks tighten up their regulations and put humans back into the cheque clearing process as their machines and computers clearly don’t recognise Tippex once they see it.

Trip to Nice has gone to the dogs

Ms L.F. writes: I booked our dogs to be transported to Nice with easyPet, while we travelled to France individually. Then our vet said if we weren’t driving the animals to Nice, the easyPet driver needed to be present at a gathering with the vet when the needed Animal Health Certificate was issued. 

I checked with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and so they confirmed that the person chargeable for the pets must be present if the owner is just not present. 

EasyPet said it might be not possible for drivers to go to every vet, so we cancelled our trip. 

Nice in Nice: Vet said the easyPet driver needed to be present at a meeting with the vet when the necessary Animal Health Certificate was issued

Nice in Nice: Vet said the easyPet driver needed to be present at a gathering with the vet when the needed Animal Health Certificate was issued

Tony Hetherington replies: What this comes right down to is the precise meaning of the recommendation from Defra, and the way your vet interpreted it. In line with Defra, when the pet’s health certificate is accomplished, allowing it to cross borders, the person chargeable for the animal have to be present if the owner is just not capable of be present. 

But this doesn’t say that the person present with the animal have to be the identical person who actually drives the pet in another country.

In brief, you would take your dogs to the vet to get their health certificates after which hand them over to the easyPet driver. The underside line is that your vet is mistaken, and I’m sorry that this has spoiled your trip to France.

For those who consider you might be the victim of economic wrongdoing, write to Tony Hetherington at Financial Mail, 2 Derry Street, London W8 5TS or email tony.hetherington@mailonsunday.co.uk. Due to high volume of enquiries, personal replies can’t be given. Please send only copies of original documents, which we regret can’t be returned. 

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