05 April 2009


The longer my mother and I struggle to make sense of Barclays' lazy loss of her entire £5,000+ bank balance, the less I need to be rude or foul-languaged in my blogging: the bank's own incompetence and opaque workings to keep customers at bay speaks for itself. The deadliest attack on that lumbering customer-hostile institution is simply to describe its own befuddled actions.

Interestingly, not a single person to whom I have recounted the following histoire  has been in any way surprised or had a single good word for the bank.

  • Jan 2009: My 88-yr-old mother makes her annual visit to London.
  • Feb 16, 1730 hrs, Kings Road Waitrose: Her purse is stolen and with it credit and debit cards, door keys, and so forth.
  • My mother calls what numbers she knows or can find and calls me in Greece for further help. I do my bit my end but, not being the owner of the card, I can hear them take me less than seriously.
  • Feb 23: letter dated Feb 17 from Barclays Fraud Detection Dept expressing concern over five debit card transactions within two minutes around half midnight, each for £41.75.
    • Quoth the Barclays missive: "We have placed a 'safeguard' on your account which protects you against any potential fraud in the immediate future. As a result of the 'safeguard', when your debit card is next used, the retailer will be prompted to contact us so that we can verify that your card is in the right hands and not being used by a fraudster."
  • I call the number on the 'safeguard' headsup - +44 1604 614, quote the Reference Number, and am put thru the various hurdles but declared clean because I have power of attorney on the account. I confirm the illegitimacy of the five transactions.
  • I am given another number to call. I point out I am calling the number on the official printed letter covering fraudulent card use. The rep apologises and explains that *our* particular account is handled by the Isle of Man branch. So why not print form letters for Isle of Man accounts that have cards go missing?

  • Feb 24: Bank statement arrives showing transactions up to my mother's final cash withdrawal on 16 Feb, leaving the account untouchable but nicely balanced at just over £5,000.
  • My mother returns home and I await the promised claim form for the five illegal transactions on Feb 17.
  • 6 March: Letter from Barclays Wealth Contact Centre informing us that on 23 February 2009 our bank account balance was £496.80 overdrawn and fees are being applied.
  • Shome mishtake, shurely?

I do not immediately jeopardise my mother's health by sharing this news: I need first get to the bottom of the matter

I try to access our account via online banking line, sans success as usual: either I have the wrong magic number or the wrong letter of the wrong 'memorable word'.

I call the number on the letter which of course isn't the right number and the right people aren't online over Sunday.

But I get good advice from the reps I'm passed to - so thank you, Sunday slaves:

  • Martin
  • Cairen
  • Sweetly gallic Cécile
  • And brusque but efficient P- who I suspect risked censure by going above her pay grade by looking at the account and hinting that it showed a fair bit of traffic with withdrawals from ATM machines. She gives me a number and advises me to call first thing Monday morning and request a Cash Machine Dispute Form.
  • I quote to P- from their own Feb 17 letter about a safeguard having been placed on the account.
  • I try accessing the online banking and this time succeed: it does not make pleasant viewing.
  • Between 17th and 23rd February, around the Ilford area and in shops as varied as Tesco, Dune, umpteen clothiers and blingeria, in amounts ranging from £30 - £100, in over 100 transactions, the account has been drained of everything, all £5,000.

    That will make for very tedious filling in of the ATM Dispute Form.

  • I want to ask a London pal to deposit some money to bring it back to sufficient health to serve some imminent direct debits but am terrified that the thieves - who must be laughing - will try again, find there's new money deposited and proceed accordingly.
  • I phone the number and am referred to another that won't answer so I go back to the previous number and have them put me through.
  • Remember, I have had limited but well-meaning service from everyone I've talked to and no-one has deliberately slowed me down by bleating about correct procedure.
  • This time I get a pure estuary accent. He asks me if the debit card is mine. It is not, nor do I know the number of my mother's card because I carelessly forgot to write it down before handing it over. But I know *my* Next card number if that helps.
  • It does not. Before the clerk can send out a Cash Machine Dispute Form he needs to speak to my mother on the phone and put her through the usual security check.

    She will flip, and all for a blank form to ask for our own money back that effing Barclays allowed to be filched in the first place.

    There are probably loose copies fluttering around Barclays' stationery cupboard that even the cleaning lady could pick off the floor and mail to me.

    Calling Group Chief Executive Mr John Varley, whose pic is over there: fie on your 'safeguards'. The only thing guarded has been the thieves' unhindered looting of my mother's account over a leisurely week.

    Meanwhile, your customers are equally well guarded against satisfying you of our bona fides so as to be entrusted with a simple blank form.

    Rommel kept a picture of Montgomery in his tent to focus on his desert enemy. I shall print out a large picture of Mr Varley and keep it on display for all distinguished visitors to see.

    I will make sure the Varley mugshot is prominent on all occasions when business grandees and financial journos arrive for conducted tours of the garden.

    Maman has, over her four score years and eight, collected a veritable Who's Who of polite society. Almost as distinguished as the Varley varlet's own Filofax.

  • I can't tell you how angry this makes me: we're talking money stolen at leisure under the bank's nose after phone calls and Barclays' own assurance of protection 'against any potential fraud in the immediate future'.
  • I wonder what Barclays considers immediate? Is it their computer sensing something about an 88-yr-old lady's Debit card being hit five times at 00:35 hours? That letter talked a good game but delivered bugger all.
  • I told Essex voice that I wasn't going to put my mother through it. I told him of my quip two years earlier with his same employer about 'Death by PR' and that now it was going to be 'Death by Theft'. He said he could see where I was coming from.
  • I hereby declare open The Barclays Wall of Shame.

    • March 10, 0925hrs: I call +44 1604 614 812 because I can never get thru to Cash Machine Dispute Forms on +44 1624 684 030. I am given another number that doesnt work so I redial 614 812 where Karnene is very helpful, up to finding that she cannot access the account because the branch is elsewhere. I should be trying +44 1624 684 030. She offers to put me through but can't because they're not open yet.
    • 1805hrs Tuesday 10th March: I call for the Dispute form and get Austin (or Saustin). I give him account number and all details from the original letter about 5 suspect purchases spotted and the card "safeguarded". He asks to speak to my mother and proceeds to put her thru the very confusing checks I wanted to avoid: membership number, special code number, employment status, DOB, place of birth. Finally she is too confused and hands the phone back to me. He is not satisfied with her answers. I lose my cool and tell him to just send the fucking form. Apparently he will do so.
    • Tax Avoidance: I'd actually prefer the bank to concentrate on avoiding thefts from their customers, rather than worry about its own nest.
      • But I note with interest the paragraph about "Tax avoidance is a matter of high public and political interest." My dad told me once that tax avoidance was a duty; tax *evasion*, on the other hand, was against the law.
    • "Ungag Guardian" cry - documents expose Barclays' style of structuring complex and artificial tax avoidance vehicles
    • The Key Players
    • 1000hrs, March 18: Phone Barclays Visa to ask where are the replacement cards promised within 5 working days to my mother when she reported the theft on Feb 17th. After being put thru all the security hoops, the very nice rep says he will organise their despatch post-haste.
    • 20 March 2009: Received from Int. Personal Banker, Jillian Leo, Confirmed Fraud Advice form, dated 10 March. The investigation can take up to 10 working days and any monies due will not be credited until the investigation is over.
    • Meanwhile, dated 3rd March from Credit Analyst/Credit Risk, a 'Returned Transactions' letter saying that they've been unable to pay the £373.06 run up on 27 Feb to Jlfs Storecard and are charging my mother £8.00 for the trouble.

      Idiots. Sots. The card was stolen Feb 16 and blocked Feb 17. What the deuce is the point charging my mother for continuing illegal use of her card 10 days later?

    • March 30, 1750 hours: Someone from bank phones and gets my mother. From what I can make out, they want to know if my mother received the Fraudulent Use form. She says she did and, coached by me, tells the person it was returned to Jillian Leo, 24/3/2009. I am not at all sure that either side knows which card they are talking about. Another danger of not letting me speak on her behalf.
    • 1715hrs, March 30: No sooner talk to Barclays on phone than the postbox is crammed with replacement Premier cards replacing the stolen one and the other canceled three, a statement from Barclaycard, and more dreary letters teling us what we already know, that Barclays having allowed the thieves to drain the account, which gaffe the bank is taking an appalling time to correct, it is now overdrawn. I will send these shameful letters to Jillian Leo of the Complaints Division to add to her growing pile of humiliation concerning their abysmal lack of security.
    • As for the Barclaycard statement, even they can't get it right: the old card was stolen on Feb 16 and blocked the same evening. The statement includes a £48.95 transaction on 19 Feb at Ted TA Cooper of Biship Stortf, a place my mother has never visited.
    • 0956 hours March 31st: Of course there is never any contact number that takes you to the letter writer, just the usual 'phonic security labyrinth by which one passes the test to signal you are approved to speak about the bank's sloppy performance in losing ones money. I am loth to go into investments just to shore up the negative balance that is causing all these direct debits to fail and the credit card company to not receive funds in order to honour illegal purchases they are still allowing through on the card (see TA Cooper above)
    • Monday April 6: Just as I get into my rhythm of misery-guts moans (see all above), I come across someone who has slipped thru the Barclays screening and is actually delivering good honest service and appears to accept the buck stopping in his environs.
      • Big bouquet, please, to Mr James Hannah whose name was on the letter request from Barclays Wealth contact centre to call (complete with phone number that actually got me thru to the man) to discuss "a few details regarding your account."
      • Well we know what details: the fact that our account is drained of £5,000+ no thanks to appalling security over my mother's debit card.Mr Hannah listened, was sympathetic, checked our files and saw the situation and was the perfect banker. I fear for his job once his customer skills leak up the powers that be.
      • Nor did he transfer after the customary 25 seconds to another dept where I'd have to go thru the whole explanation again. Nay - he was on the same floor as his colleagues involved with the theft and would consult them to see what was going on.
      • He also assured me that our credit rating would not be affected by this débarcl%eacute; ... and so much more. I just wish I was an employer who could offer him a place once all this decisive performance gets back to management and he is given his marching orders. Thank you, James. Thank you.

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