Tony Hetherington is Financial Mail on Sunday’s ace investigator, fighting readers corners, revealing the truth that lies behind closed doors and winning victories for those who have been left out-of-pocket. Find out how to contact him below.
Mrs K.A. writes: Our premium bond accounts were infiltrated by fraudsters.
My husband and I found out when our bank account received £22,000 which was a complete mystery.
The bank said the money came from premium bonds, and I then found my NS&I account was missing £22,000.
Infiltrated: The premium bond crooks got into two NS&I accounts
Tony Hetherington replies: Fraudsters are supposed to be clever and cunning. The fraudsters who tried to rob you were just plain incompetent.
They managed to get into your NS&I account. They instructed NS&I to encash £22,000 of your premium bonds. And then instead of transferring the loot to their own bank account, they sent the whole £22,000 to your bank account by mistake. By the time you checked, the crooks had realised their mistake. They had deleted your bank from premium bond records and inserted an account they controlled at the Clydesdale Bank. You reported this to NS&I and were told that you and your husband must have gone into a fake National Savings website and given all your details – something you deny.
Your husband asked how anyone could have answered your confidential questions, used to double-check who is accessing an account. It turned out that at least one question was answered incorrectly, but NS&I allowed the fraudster to continue.
When your husband checked his own premium bond account, he found that £19,000 of his bonds had been encashed and the money was on its way to the Halifax, where he has no account.
He immediately contacted NS&I but ran into a big problem because the crooks had not only changed the linked bank account, but also the confidential test questions. Your husband could not answer them, so was shut out of his own NS&I account.
Fortunately though, staff at NS&I were uneasy enough to halt the £19,000 transfer.
I asked officials at NS&I whether there were any indications to explain how two accounts could have been accessed by someone who apparently knew how to log in while appearing to be both you and your husband.
All I can tell you is that there were no signs the details leaked from inside NS&I. However, you are right that one of the crooks did give the wrong answer to a security question.
NS&I told me: ‘When answering security questions, if a customer answers a question incorrectly, they will be provided with an alternative question.’
It says this is normal industry procedure, allowing customers to make one genuine mistake before locking them out.
NS&I has offered to reset your accounts with new security credentials, but you and your husband have declined and decided to close your accounts.
My fight for ten-year-old deposits
C.J. writes: I am having problems getting the Deposit Protection Service to reimburse deposits I lodged more than ten years ago.
Trying to resolve this with the service is like walking through treacle.
I have written and spoken with staff many times but the DPS seems to follow a standard script, asking for information I have already given.
In safe hands?: Under the Government-backed Deposit Protection Scheme, landlords and letting agents hand over tenants’ deposits for safe keeping
Tony Hetherington replies: Under the Government-backed Deposit Protection Scheme, landlords and letting agents hand over tenants’ deposits for safe keeping until the tenancy ends satisfactorily, when the scheme returns the cash to the tenants.
And this is the point: the scheme returns the money. As you discovered after mistakenly refunding your tenants personally, you can struggle to recover the money from the DPS.
You supplied statutory declarations, explaining what had happened, but you got nowhere, and meanwhile the tenants had moved away and had no interest in sorting out what was your problem and not theirs. This did not mean the DPS should keep the money, of course. But it showed no signs of returning it either, until now.
It told me: ‘The law sets out very clear parameters for dealing with deposit claims and payments as well as the validation of landlord and tenant information, including stating explicitly that landlords should never use their own money when protecting a tenant’s deposit.’
However, scheme bosses should have sorted this out earlier. They have now apologised and handed over more than £2,500 to you.
Energy firm’s £150 for this nightmare is not enough
Ms E.S. writes: We moved into a new-build property in 2016 and I contacted Scottish Power to set up a dual fuel direct debit.
I was told there was no need to take any action yet, and it would be in touch. After three failed attempts to set up a direct debit, I kept money aside and waited for the company to get in touch.
Its first communication was a debt collection letter, with the threat of a visit from its operatives, plus a visitation charge.
Heavy handed: Scottish Power used a debt collector to threaten a visit from its operatives, plus a visitation charge
Tony Hetherington replies: Forgive me for publishing only the first few sentences of your letter, which cover just the start of a nightmarish experience.
When the debt collection letter arrived, you called Scottish Power and found there had been a mix-up between your address and your meter number. Nevertheless, you paid the full bill, and you managed to set up a direct debit.
All was well until 2020, when a letter arrived, saying: ‘Welcome to your new home.’ This was closely followed by a demand for £2,579, supposedly for gas used since 2016. The demand showed a completely new account number. When you contacted Scottish Power, you were told your own gas meter number really belonged to a different property nearby.
You made a complaint, but after that the demands poured in, even though you were still making monthly payments to Scottish Power. Nobody was willing or able to sort out the wrong account numbers, meter numbers or addresses. At one point, Scottish Power refused to speak to you, insisting you live at the ‘wrong’ address. Then, last March, it closed your account, opened it again under another number, and claimed you owed £994 because the monthly payments it collected had been credited to your original account. You ended up with five different account numbers, and you complained to the Energy Ombudsman.
Scottish Power has told me there is a widespread problem on your housing estate, with meter numbers not matching addresses and a number of different suppliers trying to unravel this mess.
After I contacted officials, it froze the demands. It has since closed your gas account, scrapped the charges, and tidied up your dual fuel account.
It has reinstated your direct debit and credited you with £150 as what it describes as a goodwill gesture. Frankly, I think this is far too little but at least the nightmare is over – I hope.
If you believe you are the victim of financial wrongdoing, write to Tony Hetherington at Financial Mail, 2 Derry Street, London W8 5TS or email [email protected] Because of the high volume of enquiries, personal replies cannot be given. Please send only copies of original documents, which we regret cannot be returned.
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