Tony Hetherington is Financial Mail on Sunday’s ace investigator, fighting readers corners, revealing the truth that lies behind closed doors and winning victories for those who have been left out-of-pocket. Find out how to contact him below.
D.C. writes: A person with the same name as me and living in my village died last month. I never even knew of his existence. His sister went into NatWest in Doncaster, taking the death certificate.
The bank found my records and without checking the different date of birth or the different address handed over a list of all my direct debits and standing orders. Even though the deceased lived alone, the bank included my wife’s regular payments as we have a joint account.
The sister challenged NatWest as the payments included the cost of Sky TV, a dog, car and mobile phone – and her brother had none of these. The bank assured her the list was correct and that someone must have got her brother to pay their bills. The sister then cancelled all the payments.
Shocker: The NatWest debacle played out like a comedy horror movie
This started out almost like comedy film Late Afternoon Of The Living Dead. But it quickly went downhill. Two hours after the sister’s visit to NatWest, your mobile phone stopped working. You contacted O2 and were told your sister Tracy had reported your death. You assured O2 you did not have a sister called Tracy and you were still alive. You laughed it off.
But later that afternoon your daughter answered a hammering at your front door. She was confronted by a muscular tattooed man with two companions. They had used three vehicles to block your road. ‘Muscle Man’ angrily demanded to know why you were using his dead uncle’s bank account to pay your road tax, mortgage, council tax and so on.
Now, it is bad enough to be accused of being dead. It is even worse to be accused of robbing the dead.
You were forced to prove that you, yourself, paid all your bills. But the trio then threatened to go to your youngest daughter’s address, as NatWest had told them their dead relative was paying her phone bill as well. Again, you had to convince them it was you that footed the bill.
It then dawned on everyone that NatWest had made the most monumental mistake. But it was too late. The sister Tracy had spent hours calling everyone you and your wife paid and she had cancelled all your services. You turned on your TV. Sky was not working. You picked up your landline phone. It was not working. You tried the internet. It was not working. Tracy had even started to claim on your life insurance.
Next morning you went to NatWest. The manager told you she personally had dealt with Tracy. But it was all just human error and not a big issue and no harm had been done. She had been busy, she said.
You are still picking up the broken bits of your life in the wake of this damaging leak of personal information. At one point Sky even labelled your account as in arrears because its collection staff did not like to press your ‘bereaved’ family for payment.
One of the worst aspects of this whole episode is that the NatWest manager gave a mountain of private information to someone who walked in off the street, armed only with a death certificate.
Anyone can buy a copy of a death certificate. It does not give them any legal power over the deceased’s assets, let alone power over the bank account of a complete stranger who happens to share the deceased’s name.
What possessed the manager not to point out that yours was a joint account, and that only your wife, the other account holder, had any right to its details?
I asked officials at NatWest’s head office to look into what you told me. I think they were as shocked as I was. After a short investigation they said: ‘We let down Mr and Mrs C and for this we are sincerely sorry.
‘We have robust processes in place to ensure this does not happen. Unfortunately in this case, these were not followed. The branch staff involved have been given additional training and we have compensated Mr and Mrs C.’
You are now £3,000 better off, which reflects the seriousness of the matter.
In all good horror stories, there is a sting in the tail. This is no exception, so here is the sting.
Your dead namesake does not appear to have had a NatWest account in the first place. If it had not been for the simple coincidence of your names, none of this would have happened. Not surprisingly, the Information Commissioner has joined those asking just how all this could happen.
Bank switch that came with a hitch
Ms M.G. writes: B Bank – part of Yorkshire Bank – offered an incentive of £250 to switch accounts to them. I switched, followed their rules and called to check that I met its criteria.
I was told I would receive £250 in February, but the money did not arrive.
Saving grace: B Bank – part of Yorkshire Bank – offered an incentive of £250 to switch accounts to them
The £250 incentive came with some complicated strings attached that meant new customers had to set up direct debits as well. You spotted this and you set up two direct debits, but when you contacted the bank again to ask why the £250 had not arrived, you were told you had failed to qualify as you only set up one.
You had another try at getting an explanation. This time the bank agreed you did set up two direct debits, but said you still failed to qualify because the direct debits needed to be started within 31 days. This was even more confusing as the rules of the offer suggested the time limit was 62 days.
Finally, you were given a different reason why you could not have the £250.
You failed, the bank said, because one of your direct debits was set up before the switch to B Bank was finalised – though it is hard to see how anyone could set up a direct debit for an account that did not yet exist.
I put all this to Yorkshire Bank and asked for copies of any recordings it held of phone calls. This proved unnecessary. A spokesperson for the bank said: ‘There was an error in our communication with the customer and we have been in touch to confirm she is eligible for our £250 switching offer.’ The bank has given you an apology and, of course, your £250.
If you believe you are the victim of financial wrongdoing, write to Tony Hetherington at Financial Mail, 2 Derry Street, London W8 5TS or email email@example.com. Because of the high volume of enquiries, personal replies cannot be given. Please send only copies of original documents, which we regret cannot be returned.