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Clear communication is key

 

The complainant (“the customer”) paid an amount of R 1 230 000.00 for a conveyancing transaction. The complainant was however a victim of a “change of banking details scam” whereby the fraudsters hacked her emails and changed the banking details to their own. The beneficiary Bank was able to recover R 558 012.00 which was the balance not yet withdrawn by the fraudsters.

 

Our investigation into the complaint ascertained that the beneficiary Bank did in fact contact the customer’s Bank on the date of payment and advised the customer’s Bank that they had flagged their customer’s account as fraudulent due to the “suspicious payments” that were received into the account. The beneficiary Bank requested that the customer’s Bank contact the customer and confirm the validity of the payments. The beneficiary Bank advised that only once in receipt of confirmation would it release the payments.

 

It was discovered that the customer’s personal banker did attempt to contact the customer telephonically but was unsuccessful. The personal banker then sent an email questioning the payments made from the customer’s account. It was noted by our office that the email did not mention the beneficiary Bank’s fraud suspicions. According to the complainant, she instructed the personal banker to release the payments as the email did not mention anything about fraud. The complainant at that point had no reason to suspect that anything was amiss. 

 

It was the view of our Office that the personal banker had a duty to communicate to the customer that there was a suspicion of fraud. Had the personal banker done so, the complainant would have been placed in a position to make further enquires in respect of the banking details and she would then have ascertained that she was being scammed. The Bank’s failure to do so caused its customer to suffer a significant loss.

 

Our Office advised that the personal banker did not act reasonably by merely asking the complainant to confirm if the transactions were valid without explaining the reason for the enquiry – namely, that the personal banker had been advised that the beneficiary account had been flagged as suspicions.

 

The Bank then made an offer to refund the complainant 50% of her loss. The complainant declined the offer. Our Office then confirmed our position with the Bank and advised that we maintained our view that the Bank was 100% liable.

 

The Bank reconsidered and agreed to refund the complainant the amount of R 671 987.98, being the amount withdrawn from the complainant’s account by the fraudsters. This returned the complainant to the position she had been in before the fraud was perpetrated.

 

PRINCIPLE: Clear communication is crucial in the banker/customer relationship, as it enables both parties to make informed decisions.

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