Who can tell you what to do with your money?

There's an incredibly distressing story in the BBC about a vulnerable elderly man who was conned out of his life savings.

Fraud victim gets surprise £153,000 refund despite rules
BBC News

In the story, the heartless bank refused to refund the fraud victim due to an absurd technicality - the money was sent to a foreign account rather than a UK account. Once again, big business bending the rules in order to protect their profits from a defenceless pensioner. Only after protests did they reimburse him. What a disgrace!

Except, of course, that's not what happened.

Let's scoot down the article, past the sensationalism, and see what we find:

It emerged that, in this case, Lloyds had done a really good job of not only spotting the potential fraud but alerting James to it.
The bank blocked a number of transactions, it spoke to James on the phone to warn him and even called him into a branch to speak to him face-to-face.


The bank kept his money as safe as possible but, ultimately, it was his money. He can choose to do whatever he wants with it. If he'd decided to blow his life savings on fast cars and loose women should he have been stopped?

Ultimately, this man was scammed, and the fault lies with the crooks who swindled him. But, realistically, what more could the bank have done to protect him? I suppose they could have dropped him as a customer. If they'd said he was too risky for them and told him to find a new bank, we'd see headlines of "Fury as cold-hearted bank tell pensioner to piss off".

I'm sure we've all had a friend who has driven themselves into drink, drugs, or gambling. You can intervene. You can counsel them. You can beg, plead, and threaten. But people are entitled to make their own choices in life. And sometimes they make bad choices which end up hurting them.

Perhaps this victim's family should have been more proactive in setting up a Power of Attorney. Perhaps the media consumed by older people should be flooded with scam warnings. Perhaps the victim should have heeded the bank's repeated warnings. Perhaps scammers should reconsider their life choices. Perhaps the bank should have forced him to take his business elsewhere.

Do we want banks to safeguard or money, or to gatekeep it?

This is a sad story with no happy ending and no easy answers.

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2 thoughts on “Who can tell you what to do with your money?”

  1. Ivan says:

    On a similar note, we get probabilistic login for services like Google, where sometimes, your typical authentication data is enough, but other times, you're logging in "in a suspicious way" and must "confirm" your account, typically by parting with some more of your personal data.

    There's a trade-off between security and availability, with no easy solution for it.


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