The scammers who open your post
This scam is so sneaky you may not even realise it's happening to you.
While humans continue to use money, there will be rich and poor. And while some will try to move from relative poverty to the top of the tree of fortune via investment banking and astronomic bonus cheques, a few will try to move up the ladder through fraud.
It's always going to happen – no matter how many of these blogs I write to warn lovemoney.com fans of the dangers. But the wonderful aspect of protecting yourself against scams – as opposed to many other crimes – is that you don't need to be physically strong or surround your home with locks and alarms. You just need to be alert.
Scammers targeted my daughter
When my daughter moved her bank account from Nationwide (where she was fed up with the poor customer service) to Santander (which routinely comes bottom of the heap in customer service surveys) I thought she was jumping out of the frying pan and into the proverbial fire. Well, she's grown up and has a responsible job so she can make her own decisions.
She endured a laughable episode early on where Santander refused to pay a legitimate online transfer. It suspected “fraud” and after one attempt to contact her on her mobile (at 8.30am when, like so many London residents, she was on the underground and incapable of receiving a call), it decided that it had tried hard enough. It cancelled the payment. She sorted it out – and received £50 compensation for her time.
So she stuck with Santander. She fancied its credit card and applied. She was approved, signed all the agreements and received the plastic. Then Santander sent a second identical letter – presumably her response to the first crossed the second it in the post.
Now she was about to recycle the six pages of small print ing when she noticed the envelope. Most mass mailings from banks have no postmark – but this one did and was clearly marked “Cairo”. There was also some Arabic – presumably Cairo again plus a smudgy panel, again in Arabic. This would be difficult to decipher – even for an Arabic reader – but was presumably a slogan or advert.
Whatever the Arabic said, it was clear the missive had been sent to Cairo – that is why a first class letter took five days to arrive. And the envelope flap was not stuck down so someone may have had a look at the contents.
Now, assuming Royal Mail is not in the habit of sending mail from the Santander credit card centre in east London to a south London address four miles away via a four thousand mile detour to the Pyramids, what happened?
Transported to Egypt
The following is admittedly guesswork. The envelope was marked “Santander” and “Private and Confidential” so at some stage, someone must have decided the contents could prove profitable – perhaps a plastic card or details of an account. So it - and probably many others – may have been transported to Egypt where they could be examined at leisure.
Putting them back into the postal system is better than throwing them away as no one will miss them for a few days while if thousands never arrive someone might notice – the smaller number of letters that generated dividends would presumably never be redelivered.
Now the speed with which an organisation takes action or at least warns potential victims is paramount in tackling fraud. Banks were generally quick off the mark in revealing “phishing” scams (those phoney emails that ask for your account details) – after all they stood to lose.
The Financial Services Authority was slow in telling investors to steer clear of dodgy UK brokers such as the now very bust and disgraced broker Pacific Continental or the very many phoney land sales firms – in these and similar cases the FSA did not lose money so it had no incentive to act quickly although it did eventually.
So how did Santander react when I took this problem to its press office? It listened and – to my great surprise – came back to me within two hours.
This seemed to me to be far too quick for an investigation which should take in Royal Mail, its own mail centres and perhaps the Egyptian authorities.
I was right. All Santander could do was to say it did not know why the mail went via Cairo. If I was concerned, I should contact Royal Mail.
But, sorry Santander, that's not really very helpful. You have a potential security problem here that has been brought to your attention. It could cost you and your customers dearly. So why not investigate the scam properly instead of dismissing it?
Award-winning scams expert Tony Levene explains why he's writing a blog about scams and why he is The Scam Magnet!
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