According to the Office for National Statistics most recent report on crime in the UK, there has been an unprecedented rise in the number of computer crime and identity theft incidences. The 2017 crime statistics survey estimates that there were 3.4 million fraud and 1.8 million computer misuse offences in the year ending March 2017, meaning that an increasing number of UK adults are falling victim to identity theft and online scamming.
From lone hackers to highly organised identity theft rings, ATM ‘skimming’ and credit card fraud, identity theft can leave victims traumatised and their bank accounts drained.
Once a theft has been spotted, though, it can be difficult to prove your innocence, and get your money reimbursed. Most banks are sympathetic and will act as quickly as they can to help you. But you will still need to prove that the transactions were fraudulent and that you’ve been a victim of identity theft, rather than just an impulsive spending spree.
What to do if your debit card is stolen
It’s important to get the ball rolling as quickly as possible, and tell your bank or building society the second you suspect money has been taken from your account without your permission. If your debit card has been compromised then the relevant piece of legislation you need to refer to is the Payment Services Regulations, which clearly states you must be refunded immediately if money has been taken from your account without your permission.
You may be liable for unauthorised withdrawals made before you inform your bank (up to a maximum of £50). But if the bank thinks you’ve been partly responsible through negligence (for example, leaving your PIN number where it can be accessed) or are complicit in the fraud, they may delay payment while they investigate further.
Once it’s proven that your account has been compromised, it is then down to the bank to refund you the money and restore your account to the state it was in before the money was taken. That means any interest charges, excess fees or penalties incurred as a result of the money being taken out must also be refunded.
Once you’ve reported your debit card stolen or your account compromised, you won’t be liable for any losses.
What to do if your credit card is cloned or stolen
For credit cards, the legislation is a little different, and you’ll need to refer to the Consumer Credit Act. That means you may be liable for the first £50 of any transaction if your card is lost or stolen, but as in the case of debit cards, most card companies will waive this payment as soon as you report the card has been compromised. Once you’ve reported it, you are no longer liable for any money spent on your card.
Again, it’s important to act as quickly as possible, and as soon as you suspect there may be a problem, notify your card supplier or bank (if the credit card has been issued by your bank).
Why banks may question your claim
Banks face financial scams every day, so it’s only natural that they’re very careful to investigate every case thoroughly. If they think you’ve been negligent in your management of your account details (for example, leaving your PIN number on your desk, or telling someone else your security details), then they may hold you partially responsible for the breach, and refuse to refund your money.
If you think that they are being unfair you can talk to your legal representative, who will be able to take the matter up with the Financial Ombudsman – the organisation that oversees banking and financial transactions in the UK.
Different types of scams
Another way unscrupulous scammers can skim from your credit card is by taking more money after you’ve paid for a legitimate transaction. If you’ve spent between £100 and £30,000 on a credit card then the Consumer Credit Act protects your rights to claim that money back. Your credit card issuer is jointly liable if something goes wrong, so you must again contact your card supplier as soon as you realise you may have been scammed. (The biggest giveaway is if the vendor claims there’s been a ‘problem with the supplier’ after a transaction has gone through, but doesn’t refund your money immediately.)
Rule #1 – NEVER give out your details!
Overall, consumers are well protected if things go wrong, particularly if you use a credit card rather than a debit card to pay for goods (over £100). But as always, the key is prevention, rather than cure, so never divulge your details like PIN numbers or passwords over the phone or by email, even if the caller or correspondent claims to be from your bank. Trust your instincts – if something doesn’t ‘feel right’, back away quickly, and if you are scammed, report it straight away.
You can also report suspected fraud through the polices’ non-emergency number 101, or via their Action Fraud reporting service online.
This is not legal advice; it is intended to provide information of general interest about current legal issues.