Who nicked my money and why doesn't First Direct want to stop them?

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So Christmas is upon us and the usual tugs at our finances are pulling hard. Freelances like me get even more fun at this time of year: no one's commissioning much new work; accounts departments are going on holiday; and late payers don't get twinges of conscience and start paying their debts without ghosts rattling their chains nearby.

Even so, what none of us needs is fraudulent transactions on our business accounts. So imagine my delight last Thursday when I discover a payment from my account to “Vanquis Bank Chatham” for nearly £250. I'd never heard of them. I've been to Chatham once, but I went through very quickly once I'd had a look around. Needless to say though, I'd done no business of any kind with anyone in Chatham ever, let alone Vanquis. I hadn't even done any business that week using that account, certainly nothing to the tune of £250.

I pointed this out to my bank, First Direct, who were kind enough to do a Google search and point out what I'd already discovered for myself: Vanquis Bank runs a credit card for those with debt problems who can't get a credit card anywhere else. It has a maximum limit of £250 and (wait for this: it'll stagger you) an APR of 58%!

Surprisingly enough, I don't own one of these. First Direct shouldn't be surprised since I have a credit card with them with no balance on it at all at the moment. You'd think – and you'd have thought they'd think this too – that if I were going to buy anything using a credit card, it would be with that one. But no. I patiently explained this to them, but they didn't see quite to understand. So they got their disputes department to call me the next day. They sent me an e-message using their atrocious e-messaging system (not for us email! We want a system that you can't store messages in and can't easily print out any messages. Hoorah!), which I duly printed out and posted on Sunday.

Guess what. Today, another entry for the “Vanquis Bank Chatham”, again for nearly £250 appears on my statement. Despite my contesting the previous payment, First Direct has decided to let the second payment through as well. I'm down half a grand now. I can look forward to calling their disputes department again tomorrow, I guess.

But here's the fun part. Remember Groundhog Day? That's what it was like with First Direct. I rang up, told them what had happened last time as well as this time. And they then proceeded to do exactly the same things again, even repeating back to me things that I'd already told them that they decided to proclaim they'd discovered. They offered to do a Google search for me (“apparently, they run a credit card...” “I know, I told you that two minutes ago”), told me there was nothing they could do until the disputes department was open, etc.

First Direct: here's something you could do to improve your service. If there's a disputed transaction where the customer says they've never done business with the company in question before and if the company either looks dodgy or looks like it might have one or two dodgy customers, why don't you stop all future transactions on that account with that company? Doesn't all that evidence suggest to you identity fraud or something similar, particularly if your customer tells you it is?

My next worry is working out how the tea-leaf got my bank details. I don't use my bank details online that often, usually only for direct debits and the like with reputable companies. I have a Mac so spyware is not going to be the cause. When I use my Switch card, because it's my business account, I save the receipts for tax purposes. I shred everything I don't keep. So how's they do it?

I'm paranoid, but not paranoid enough it turns out. Any suggestions anyone?

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This page contains a single entry by Rob Buckley published on December 22, 2005 12:21 AM.

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