JEFF PRESTRIDGE: Banking in kangaroo court must stop

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JEFF PRESTRIDGE: Banking in a kangaroo court has to stop: Robots are taking over the proverbial asylum

There’s nothing wrong with online banking. Like most people, I embrace it and am often found in the early hours looking at the state of my account, coffee in hand – although a stiff whisky would sometimes be a little more appropriate. 

Yet, as our banking habits become increasingly impersonal – less reliant on branch visits – and banks embrace more automation and lay off yet more staff, there is a danger that the robots will take over the proverbial banking asylum with unwelcome consequences. 

As our report opposite highlights, it’s already happening with regards to enforced account closures. Banks – NatWest, especially – are being allowed to close customers’ accounts without giving a reason.  

‘I’ll be back’: Robots are taking over the proverbial banking asylum with unwelcome consequences

Usually triggered by computer systems fishing for unusual transactions that may indicate fraud, the closures leave customers bankless, bewildered and angry. 

Those targeted then have little chance to challenge the bank’s decision. They are ‘guilty’ without being given the opportunity of a trial. It’s kangaroo court-like banking justice – and it’s unacceptable. 

Rising account closures is a deeply worrying trend. In trying to catch the money launderers and fraudsters, the banks are trawling their nets far and wide. 

But in so doing, innocent tiddlers (the Natalie Kays and Adam Siddles of this world) are being ensnared. It’s an issue the City regulator and the Financial Ombudsman Service (however much pressure it is under) should look at as a matter of urgency. 

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Scammers spend most of their time indoors – it’s in the nature of their work – so lockdown has not deterred them from attempting to empty our depleted bank accounts. Far from it. 

With more ideas for scams than ever – many of them now coronavirus related (despicable) – lockdown has encouraged them to breed like rats. They will stop at nothing to rob us of our cash, so please be on your guard. 

By way of example, I recently received a text informing me I had overpaid my car tax and was due a £203.07 refund. 

It was supposedly from the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency and gave me a link to follow so as to claim my money. To my keen eye, it was obvious that the text was a scam designed to get me to hand over my bank account details, but I can see how some people may be tricked by it. I was also cold-called by someone claiming I had been involved in a car accident. 

Not strictly a scammer in that the caller was trawling for accident victims in the hope of persuading them to then launch a compensation claim that it could make a tidy sum from. But the call was an irritation all the same. I slammed the phone down although I was tempted to tell them that my car has not moved an inch since lockdown in late March. 

Thankfully, not all scammers are sophisticated. Reader Alex Schmid sent me an email a few days ago, allegedly from Revenue & Customs, stating he was due a juicy tax refund. 

But he didn’t have to read beyond the first line to realise it was from a fraudster – and not a good one at that. It read: ‘Dear TaxPayer, We have recalculate your last fiscal activity and we have determinate that you are eligible to receive a tax refund of 425.58 GBP.’ Oh dear. The scammer obviously didn’t think to put the email through Google Translate before sending it to Alex et al. 

If you’ve recently received a scam email or text – convincing or utterly ridiculous – let me know. And, of course, stay alert at all times.

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Finally, a message to Tony Hall, director general of the BBC. Stop trying to bully us into storing our ludicrously expensive annual TV licence online. 

Although it may be an age thing, some of us do like the comfort of a paper licence that we can see and store away in a place where we can easily find it. It’s the same as receiving a paper-based utility bill or bank statement – it feels more real. 

So end the relentless ageism Mr Hall – and while you’re at it announce that you are abandoning plans to impose TV licence fees on the over-75s.  

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