This disaster and following months of frustration came when my parents arrived on a cruise ship to Sri Lanka, with no more than 12 hours to spend in port, when they were approached by a seemingly genuine western bloke claiming to be from the American Embassy. This same guy then led them to a gem shop, where my parents were split from each other, and mum my was surrounded by around 5 local men, and pressured into buying cheap gems. Which she only agreed on to escape the situation, although the gems were relatively cheap, in local currency (around £14). But what she later found was that the amount charged was in US dollars, and the situation became really quite frightening (the full scam here). However here I am only sharing the follow-up, and the disaster of Nationwide Building Society, as their processes and protection for credit card fraud continually failed. And ultimately it was their systems which cost my parent’s over £2,000 (Note, my mum not new to Sri Lanka, the local currency, and even the local scams, as pictured below).
So the gem shop tried to charge a number of transactions at the time (originally 4 gems, and apparently 6 attempts as told by Nationwide), only all but one were declined. Simply because her balance and overdraft were nowhere near covering the cost. So they continued to charge the card until one transaction was accepted. Which was $3,000. But it was these original transactions which ultimately revealed the overall scam. As the same receipt (that was handed to her folded with her gem as she left) shows the Total Price of $3,000. Yet it was used for every transaction attempt in the shop, including the failed transactions (6 in total). But no other amount was recorded on the Total Price column of receipt. Meaning the $3,000 was almost definitely added to the receipt after the transaction had been processed. When it was almost impossible to have the money returned (and, even had she caught it there, we would have been in the exact same situation with claiming against fraud).
Credit Card Protection
Fortunately there are systems in place to detect fraudulent transactions, and they can easily be cancelled before it’s too late (Credit Card Protection). My parents had also given me access to their accounts before leaving, in case of situations like this (so now I feel somewhat guilty for my own failure here). But it was otherwise almost impossible for me to report the fraud. Anyway, my mum had messaged me to alert me to the denials on her card in Sri Lanka (although not suspecting the shop quite yet, as things seemed normalish, other than the aggressive hard sell). She would then be at sea for the following four days as I was left to deal with the situation. And on the same morning I received a number of automated messages to the home phone from Nationwide Building Society, telling me about potential fraud on her account (which I actually thought was a scam, to begin with. It’s hard to trust robot voices). But, when knowing the situation, I followed the options, only to be led round-and-around in circles. Unable to speak to a human voice. Simple because I am not the cardholder. So the only useful option was to give a contact number for my mum, who was on a cruise ship, in the middle of the Indian Ocean. And it was literally impossible to speak to Nationwide regarding the issue.
Don’t Bank on Customer Service
So within hours I had phoned Nationwide Building Society, only I was told that the only person that could deal with the account was the account holder (which was impossible). And I wasn’t even allowed to give a heads-up or explain the situation. Which wasn’t a huge concern to begin with, as I could still easily report it online. Anyway, when speaking to the guy on customer service, he didn’t even know that these automated calls existed with Nationwide, and assumed, like I did, that they may have been scam calls (but obviously they’re not). And I asked, hypothetically, if my mum had access to the online account, is it possible to report it there through “reporting unusual activity”. And I was told that the transaction must be debited first, before reporting it, which turned out to be completely wrong. So it wasn’t until 2 days later that I realised that payments can be reported during a pending status (only it shows on the 2nd screen of reporting). So the fraud could easily have been stopped on day one. And I do feel somewhat guilty on my part. Even it was 100% Nationwide who misled me.
Nationwide Fraud Detection Systems
Four days later I was welcomed with some relief from the “Special Investigations Department” at Nationwide Building Society, who issued a letter to the home address saying that unusual transactions had been restricted on the account. Due to potential fraud. But this relief lasted less than a day as the situation then became very real. Because the restriction appeared to have been lifted, for some reason, and the $3000 transaction continued through. Literally on the same day as receiving the letter. So her entire holiday account was cleaned out, and she was left with a rather massive overdraft to return to. And at this time I was left on damage control. So I was straight to report the transaction through online banking, by reporting “unusual activity”, which is when my heart sank as I realised that the fraudulent transaction could have been reported during a “pending status”. And I could have fixed the situation on the day it happened. So it’s hard not to feel a bit shit about this. Only Nationwide’s customer service had told me otherwise (fortunately these calls should be recorded for training/quality purposes).
The reporting was almost as frustrating as the scam itself, and it wasn’t until 3 weeks later when we finally made proper contact with Nationwide. Or at least outside of their internal online messaging system. And I continued to report the fraud through 6 internal messages, only they kept insisting that they needed proof of the purchase. However they give no way to even attach the proof that they required, so I improvised by uploading the receipt to the cloud before sending a link, which they then refused to open. And again I was led in circles. So the first proper contact was near 3 weeks later, when they finally gave us an email contact to send the receipt to (on the 26/04/2018 when the fraud was recorded on 06/04/2018). Which is really quite ridiculous, as every day/minute counts in these situations. But even after sending the evidence they said that they were unable “to raise a case” because the receipt shows $. Whereas, what the receipt actually shows (as above), was that the amount was added after the purchase was made. The receipt proved it was a scam.
Refusal to forward
The entire case was based now on the amount charged differing to what was agreed in the shop. However we were continually told that the receipt, which almost certainly shows a scam and fraud, was weak evidence. Which I guess is what the scammers typically bank on. Yet, by luck, we had exposed the entire scam as above. Either way Nationwide was not having it, and it was a continual back-and-forth “this is not enough for us to use to process this” and they refused to forward the case to VISA. Because we only had a receipt showing $3000 and not rupees. At the same time, what other evidence do they expect? CCTV footage, witnesses, I really don’t know. And again how would they receive these without accepting attachments or opening links through their website messaging system. It is all just a mess of a system. Which is just very convenient to complicate claims, and ultimately dodge their obligations when it comes to credit card fraud protection when abroad. Anyway, our hands are tied. But I never really give up.
Two Months On…
The money lost was ultimately due to faults and misinformation in the Nationwide systems. And had my mum realised the $ sign on the receipt, when handed it on leaving the shop, the VISA transaction would have already been processed. Do you think she would have much chance of a refund, in a shop full of fraudsters (even I would be terrified to return to that situation). As the scenario would have otherwise been no different. She would still have contacted me to cancel the transaction. I would have faced the same problems reporting the issue to Nationwide. I would still have received the same false information from customer service. The same fraud report from the “Special Investigations Department” would not have been acted on. I would wait for the pending amount to be debited from the account. It just all leads to the exact same situation and outcome. Meanwhile the fraud could and should have been stopped on the exact day that it happened.
The Wider Issue
Instead of protecting their customers, Nationwide appear to make it as hard as possible to report fraud, and these scammers will just continue robbing vulnerable tourists straight off the boats. As they try to brush them off, or just flat out refuse to follow them up, despite overwhelming evidence. And I did look into the scam in further detail (which I will share separately soon enough). I contacted the website of the shop, and phoned them, and emailed the Gmail address on the invoice (which bounced back saying “It might be misspelled or it might not exist”). As it’s more or less impossible to reach them, despite showing a return policy at the bottom of the receipt (I’m guessing they primarily target pensions off the cruise ships). But they do have a relatively respectable online presence, with favourable reviews faked from nearby link-farms. Not to mention the actual VISA transaction ID which shows as “M I GEMS (USD) COLOMBO”, where they add in a USD (as in USDollars), in some blatant attempt of overcompensation for their scam. I have rarely seen such a blatant scam and I’ve lived a third of my life now in Thailand/Asia. But, unfortunately, it is very easy to rob vulnerable pensioners straight off a boat. And who cares really… So much for being ‘On your side’.