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Are naive bank staff making it easier for fraudsters?

Sophie Jones, 26, telephoned Nationwide about a £7,300 bank transfer she was planning to make for a car found online and if she would be protected if the sale turned out to be a scam.

Stung: Sophie Jones lost £7,300 in an eBay car swindle

Today Money Mail raises serious concerns over advice being given by bank staff about fraud.

We have obtained a damning transcript where a woman telephoned Nationwide Building Society about a £7,300 bank transfer she was planning to make for a car found online.

In it, Sophie Jones, 26, asks Nationwide whether she would be protected if the sale turned out to be a scam.

The call handler says 'yes' and explains to Sophie that they would be able to trace the money to see where it had gone. However, this couldn't be further from the truth.

Victims of fraud who have been tricked into transferring cash into a criminal's bank account rarely get their money back.

The crooks typically move it again so quickly that by the time the customer has reported the crime, it is long gone and almost impossible to trace.

Banks are not obliged to refund victims of this type of fraud because even though they were duped into handing over their money, they authorised the transaction so the bank is not considered to be at fault.

Banks are well aware this type of fraud is a growing problem. 

Around one in six of all estimated crimes in England and Wales is online fraud, which includes people being tricked into transferring money, says the Office of National Statistics. Officials think only a fifth of these cases are reported.

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Last week it emerged that one person falls victim to a bank transfer fraud every ten minutes. In the first half of this year, £101million was lost to scammers, with just £25million recovered by banks. 

Yet despite this, banking staff do not appear to have been trained to warn customers when they call for advice.

The payments watchdog has announced plans to make banks take more responsibility for protecting customers from fraud. But the new rules won't take effect until next year.

Sophie Jones had called Nationwide after her partner, Kieran, found a white Volkswagen Golf 2015 for sale on eBay for £7,300.

The car was listed by a company that had other vehicles for sale, and the man she spoke to, Leon Davis, had been selling on eBay since 2008.

Too good to be true: Sophie Jones's partner, Kieran, found a white Volkswagen Golf 2015 for sale on eBay for £7,300

He had a valid email address, website and a working business and mobile telephone number. 

The car was in Scotland, but Mr Davis said he'd arrange for it to be driven down to the couple, who live in Rugby. They just had to transfer £7,300 into his account first.

Sophie, a finance manager, called Nationwide on September 13 for advice.

During the call, which Money Mail has heard, she says: 'I'm calling on behalf of my partner who has seen a vehicle he'd like to purchase on eBay. 

He's given us a business bank account to pay in to. I just wondered how safe and secure...?'

At first, the staff member seemed to think the customer was worried the transfer wouldn't go through.

Sophie re-states her question, saying that even though the seller had a 100 per cent positive rating on eBay from other buyers and it looks like a proper company, she wants to know whether Nationwide would be able to get her money back if something went wrong with the purchase. 

'Should there be an issue — the car doesn't arrive or whatever — how does that work: are we protected in any way?' she asks.

The Nationwide representative says: 'Yes. If, for instance, you make the transfer, and for some reason it doesn't reach the recipient, you can give us a ring, we will do a trace to see where the money has gone to and why it hasn't gone into the account.

'The other thing I was going to say is if maybe the company turns out to be fraudulent, yes, you can ring through to us and we'll conduct some investigations and then try and locate your money for you.'

Advice: Sophie contacted Nationwide to ask whether they would be able to get her money back if something went wrong with the purchase

Sophie replies: 'My only concern was that if he doesn't turn up with the vehicle or if he turns out to be fraudulent... as long as I've got some sort of reassurance from you that everything is traceable.'

The Nationwide woman responded: 'Yeah that's fine.'

After hanging up, Sophie transferred the money. Mr Davis sent her an invoice for the vehicle using the business email address stated in the eBay listing.

The car was supposed to be delivered to the couple five days later, on September 18, but it never arrived.

Sophie's partner Kieran, 27, tried calling, but Mr David ignored the calls and eventually turned his phone off.

They discovered Mr Davis had removed all the listings and taken down his website and concluded it was a scam.

Sophie immediately reported the crime to Action Fraud, the government body responsible for advising victims, and got a crime reference number.

But when she contacted Nationwide, she was told it couldn't try to recover the money. 

The following day, it confirmed the money had been withdrawn from the account the day the transfer was made.

eBay's money-back guarantee does not apply to car purchases, so she had no right to a refund through the website.

Nationwide offered £125 in compensation for the poor service she had received.

Sophie says: 'I made the payment based on their advice. I felt I had been assured my money was safe. But then they didn't do anything to help me.'

It was only when Money Mail stepped in that Nationwide agreed to refund the full amount of £7,300.

A Nationwide spokeswoman says: 'We recognise the advice given was not up to our usual high standards. We accept that we could have done more to support the customer.'

v.bischoff@dailymail.co.uk

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