Miracle on the High St.


Staff at a branch of Barclays Bank have managed to do the impossible.

They suspected that a customer was about to become a victim of ‘courier’ fraud. Instead of allowing her to be robbed to teach her not to be so stupid, they delayed the transaction and alerted the police. The customer has lost no money, and an alleged fraudster is in custody.

This is commendable behaviour by the bank workers. The customer should be grateful. I hope that their employer sees it in the same light. The banks have explained at length that it is not their responsibility to protect customers from their own idiocy. They go further: such a thing is against the laws of physics. Even if they could be bothered to intercept these transactions, there is no way to do so. Yet here we have bank staff preventing a crime in progress. The centre cannot hold.

The banks’ cynical inaction is tolerated because of a mistaken but widespread belief that ‘courier’ fraud is targeted at dotty old people who refuse to get to grips with modern technology. Not so. As many of the victims are below 55 as are above it.

For example, Faye Brian is 35. She has lost all of her money to fraudsters. To make matters worse, she is a customer of Santander. Not only will she get no money back, but you can be sure that the bank will have treated like a fool or a criminal, or both. If she had not managed to read the correct newspaper articles, or see the correct television programmes, she would have been unaware of the existence of this class of fraud. Despite Santander’s claims, it makes little effort to inform its customers of these risks. In fact, some of its pompous pronouncements on this topic are not always perfectly aligned with the truth.

You will have noticed that I have not explained what ‘courier’ fraud is. This is because the banks are all agreed that the vast majority of customers know all about this type of crime, so there is no need to warn them.

It’s true that there has been some publicity lately, and more people have now heard of it, but if you are not one of them you have exposed the banks’ falsehood. Faye Brian certainly had no knowledge of this scam.

So there we have a contrast of styles. Workers at one bank look out for their customers’ safety; at another they treat them as stupid cash cows. Which one is the future of UK retail banking?


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