I am 82 and live with my wife who is 79. We have just our state pensions to live off.
In March 2021, I saw an advert online about investing in cryptocurrency from just £250. A man who said he was Lucas Hoffman rang me on behalf of a company called WiseCoin.
He said he was Swiss, opened an account on my behalf and started trading for me. Then he arranged for me to open an account with a money transfer firm through which I could make payments from my Halifax account into WiseCoin.
He said I could remove my money at any time and as an act of faith transferred £250 back into my Halifax account.
In total I transferred about £52,000. When the value in cryptocurrency was shown as £119,000, I asked Hoffman to withdraw all my money.
He said a colleague would need to arrange this, but I heard nothing. After a week, I got in touch with Halifax, which told me I’d been scammed.
It said it would not refund the money and it was up to me to chase the other organisations. I have no savings left. Please can you help.
Sally Hamilton replies: I know many readers will be thinking how could you be so naïve? But I am here to help all in their hour of need. In my experience of dealing with similar cases, I can see how hard it is for victims to resist the insistent sales patter of an accomplished conman.
Predators like the one posing as ‘Hoffman’ use classic reassurance tactics, such as transferring back a small sum as an ‘act of good faith’.
Later, they trick victims into parting with more money, citing tax reasons or other such hogwash, only for the culprits to disappear into thin air, along with the victims’ life savings.
It made my heart sink. You were looking for a way to make your small savings pot stretch further in your twilight years, which made you juicy prey for these vultures.
As gullible as you were, I felt Halifax could have done more than fob you off when you finally woke up to the fraud. A customer’s bank and its security measures should be the front line against these attackers.
I asked Lloyds Banking, which owns Halifax, if it would reopen your case, and see if it could track down and return any of your £52,000 losses.
Its fraud team re-examined all the details to work out whether you might be entitled to a refund under the industry’s Contingent Reimbursement Model Code, a voluntary set of rules used by many banks to reimburse customers who have suffered so-called ‘authorised push payment’ fraud.
Its fraud team concluded the whole scam must have started with you tapping in your phone number on an online form following an internet search for cryptocurrency investments.
This was all the scammer required to hook you in. He phoned you, posing as a salesman from ‘WiseCoin’.
He appears to have persuaded you to use your personal details and ID to open an account with genuine money transfer firm Wise (formerly TransferWise) on your behalf, deliberately confusing you with the similarity in company names.
Two large transfers were made, one in December 2021 and another in January this year. It seems money was quickly moved out of this account, which was when your savings vanished for good.
Halifax says it did block a further £12,000 transfer in March that looked suspicious. But even after a call with the fraud team, it appears you decided to continue with the payment. When you then lost contact with Hoffman, you visited your Halifax branch, which confirmed you had been scammed.
Since the transfers were being made to an account set up in your own name, this meant Halifax would not refund you this money under the scam code. But a few days later, for some reason, you reconnected with the scammer and made two further payments worth about £16,000.
This time you transferred the money into accounts belonging to the scammers. Despite a screen warning from Halifax, ‘Make sure this investment is real’, you went ahead and transferred another £10,000.
Since these payments went to the fraudster’s account, they fell within the sphere of the scam code. Halifax says it could have intervened more forcefully at this point.
All in all, although it feels like you did not do enough to protect yourself, such as failing to make checks on the company, ignoring the warnings and being lured in by unfeasibly attractive promises, the bank decided it should share the responsibility and pay back half your losses.
A Lloyds Bank spokesman says: ‘Helping keep our customers’ money safe is our priority and we have a great deal of sympathy for the customer as the victim of a crime. We’ve now been able to refund 50 pc of the money he paid directly to the fraudsters and have apologised for the service he received when the scam was first reported.’
You have now got back about £19,600 plus £200 for the poor service and lost interest.
I also asked Wise to investigate. After several weeks it confirmed it could not find any of your money in its coffers.
It concluded it could not have stopped the scam as you had opened the account with the fraudster and allowed remote access to your devices — which is against its terms and conditions. I argued you believed it was the firm’s employee helping you, but it refused any refund.
I cannot stress enough the wisdom of making thorough checks on a firm’s credentials before transferring funds, not least when life savings are at stake.