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The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK
Miles Brignall

‘I was in despair’: how lending a phone led to life savings being stolen

Person with friends using mobile phone in bar
A Friday night out with friends in London led to more than £9,000 being spent on Sami’s card. Photograph: Peter Cade/Getty

If you are one of those people who keeps their debit card in their mobile phone case, has a note of their pin on their handset, or only ever uses mobile banking, you may want to rethink your setup after you read the case of Sami Souret*.

On a recent night out the 28-year-old healthcare professional was kind enough to help a man who asked to borrow her phone. Less than six hours later, her £9,350 life savings had been spent by him on Apple products in London. And the final indignity: he used her Uber account to take a cab to Stansted airport.

Her story, which could almost be used by schools to teach young people how not to expose themselves to financial risk, started after a Friday night out with friends in London.

While she was waiting for her 5am taxi to come and take her home, she got chatting with a man who asked if he could use her mobile, saying his had stopped working. Having unlocked her iPhone she handed it over. What happened next is a bit of a blur, she says, but it now appears she was distracted by his accomplice. When she turned around, her new friend and her phone had gone – along with her Metro Bank debit card, which she carried in her phone case.

Quite why she didn’t phone the bank immediately to try to cancel the bank card is unclear – alcohol, she admits, had been drunk – but when she woke up she says she called Metro Bank to explain what had happened.

“I was in a bit of an emotional state. My phone had gone and I was panicking,” she says. “I could not pass the telephone bank security as I didn’t know my passwords. Why would I? I never call them as I do all my banking on my mobile, and all the telephone banking passwords are completely different. They said I had to visit the branch.”

What she had forgotten was that lots of her sensitive financial information was in a Notes file on the stolen mobile. Although the pin for the lost Metro Bank debit card wasn’t listed in the file, it did list the pin for another card. The thief must have found the note, and assumed that like most people Souret used the same pin for all her bank cards. She did.

While Souret was trying to get through by phone to Metro, the thief had already made a series of purchases in the nearest Apple store buying up the most expensive items – using chip and pin with her card.

Souret, along with lots of people of her generation, only ever used mobile banking. Without her phone, she didn’t have the passwords to log in from a laptop.

By late morning, she had raced to Metro’s Wimbledon branch in an effort to cancel the card and get a replacement. By the time the card was finally blocked the thief was just making his final Apple purchase.

The bank teller told her they could see the purchases as they had just gone through. In a few hours the fraudster had spent her £9,300 savings. Armed with his purchases, he used her Uber account to get to the airport, leaving Souret “in despair”.

“He seems like he is an expert, given the extent to which I was conned,” she says. “My notes are password protected and I only keep things there as I have bad anxiety and get worried I won’t be able to access my account if I forget the pin. I was trying to help someone in need and ended up being scammed. It has been the most devastating experience to go through.”

When she appealed to Metro Bank for a refund, it declined on the basis that she had breached its terms and conditions by not taking “adequate care of her security details”, and that the payments had happened before she reported the card lost.

She argued that had telephone banking staff advised her how to freeze her card she would have done so. Instead, she says, she was told to go to the nearest branch which wasted time and allowed the thief to keep using her card.

After Guardian Money asked the bank about her case, Metro Bank agreed to refund her £3,600 – the purchases made after her call.

A Metro Bank spokesperson says: “Thank you for bringing this case to our attention. As we have previously mentioned, customers can block or cancel their cards in our app, via their online banking account or by calling us.

“We recognise that we could have done more to help our customer when she reported the theft and we are refunding two of the fraudulent transactions to her account [£2,398 and £1,199 respectively] that took place after she had reported the fraud. We are sorry this was not picked up in our initial investigation and we are offering her an additional £150 in recognition of our error.”

The bank’s stance has left Souret considering taking her case to the Financial Ombudsman in an effort to get back more of her losses.

Meanwhile, it seems worth considering what you would do if you lost your phone and debit card at the same time. Would you be able to swiftly cancel or freeze your card without your mobile?

* Not her real name

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