I have noticed some payments coming out of my bank account where I do not recognise the amounts or names of the firms paid. What can I do?
It pays to keep a close eye on your bank statements. In these days of on-line banking, on-line shopping and payment by contactless card, all of which have for obvious reasons become more popular during the current pandemic, our accounts are more than ever vulnerable to fraudulent exploitation by unscrupulous criminals.
Scammers often take small amounts of money from lots of people, which they hope will go unnoticed amongst the potentially high volume of small transactions which we all amass on our cards on a daily basis, especially as shops encourage contactless payment to help combat the spread of the Covid19 virus.
Sometimes, of course, the amounts of money are far from negligible and the consequences can be catastrophic both financially and emotionally for the many of us who fall victim to such fraud.
It’s all too easy to overlook an unexpected payment which a fraudster slips into your account. And scammers are constantly inventing new ways of parting you from your money.
A recent example was identified by Which, the consumer service. A member of the public spotted unauthorised transactions on their card, and wondered what were the mystery ‘social score’ payments they noticed had been debited from their account? A £39.30 deduction from ‘Rank My Social’ appeared on their card statement, which was unauthorised.
This member of the public tracked down the firm online and emailed it. It said it analyses social media accounts and provides a ‘social score’ indicating the impression people give to the outside world.
It refused a refund and explained that this person had in all likelihood been enrolled in a free trial of their service in the process of obtaining a loan or finance. The free trial had now ended and become a paid subscription. But the member of the public had no recollection of entering a free trial while obtaining any credit, let alone entering an agreement to pay a regular subscription for this unwanted service.
This same member of the public then spotted another unauthorised payment, this time from ‘sterling-tracker.co.uk’ for £27.65.
Which asked Rank My Social and Sterling Tracker how they obtained the person’s details but received no reply.
Sterling Tracker describes itself as ‘an online product designed to help you manage your budget and boost your savings’. However, 96% of its reviews on Trustpilot are negative, with a majority branding it fraud or theft and describing unauthorised transactions just like this one. A few reviewers describe being unwittingly enrolled while applying for a loan or insurance, like the member of the public whose vigilant checking of bank statements brought this suspicious activity to light.
You can send a “subject access request” to firms such as these to find out exactly how and where they got your details. A subject access request, or SAR, is a written request to a company or organisation asking for access to the personal information it holds on you.
This right of access means you can ask to review and verify the lawfulness of the processing of your personal data. For example, you might want to make a subject access request if you’re not convinced the company is processing your data lawfully, or to understand what an organisation knows about you. You might also want to ask about any logic involved in any automated decisions made about you or get confirmation that your data is being processed and request access.
If you wish to make a subject access request, there is no particular format for doing so – you can simply write to or email the organisation and ask it to provide all of the information about you it is required to disclose under the Data Protection Act 2018.
Of course, your main concern will be to stop the unauthorised payments and to recover your stolen money.
In most circumstances, your bank must refund you for an unauthorised payment. Money can only be taken from your account if you have authorised the transaction. If you notice a payment out of your account that you did not authorise, you should contact your bank immediately. If you did not authorise a particular payment you can claim a refund.
In most cases the bank must refund the payment without undue delay and by the end of the business day following the day on which it became aware of the problem.
Your bank can generally only refuse a refund for an unauthorised payment if:
- it can prove you authorised the transaction – though your bank cannot simply say that use of your password, card or PIN conclusively proves you authorised a payment
- it can prove you are at fault because you acted fraudulently or because you deliberately, or with ‘gross negligence’, failed to protect the details of your card, PIN or password in a way that allowed the transaction to take place
In this case the bank of the member of the public who spotted the unauthorised transactions, refunded both payments and prevented further deductions, but the mystery of how they were started remains.
The moral of this cautionary tale for all of us is: read checkbox options very carefully when signing up for anything, and always keep a close eye on your bank statements for unexpected activity. But remember, it is reassuring to know, that banks must refund unauthorised payments in almost all cases.
(Sources. Which Scam watch; CitA public website: Banking; and FCA)