A reader has told how two women managed to win her confidence - and rob her of €3,000 - on a shopping trip in Aude.
Retired teacher Anne Bateman was approached by the pair as she carried groceries back to her car.
The two women said they needed help to get to the nearest pharmacy.
One of them claimed to be pregnant and in pain so their request had an urgency to it that overcame Mrs Bateman’s reservations.
During the ride to the pharmacy, she found one of the women to be especially chatty and it made her start to feel something was awry.
Her first instinct on dropping the women off was to check her bags and she found to her dismay that the bank card she had used in the shop was gone.
“I know now that the chatty one was trying to distract me while her friend rifled through my bag,” she said.
“I called my husband immediately and told him to cancel the bank card while I tried to catch up with the women,” said Mrs Bateman, 68.
Scrambling to follow them, Mrs Bateman hastily parked her car and, in an ironic twist of her misfortune, fell foul of a gendarme.
‘You can’t park there’
“The gendarme told me that I could not just park and run off,” said Mrs Bateman. “But I wanted to tell her about the theft and for the gendarme to stop the women from getting away.”
Even Mrs Bateman, who speaks French and has decades of experience living in France, was overwhelmed by the number of explanations and justifications that the situation required to prevent the women from disappearing with her bank card.
“By the time I managed to park the car to the satisfaction of the gendarme, and rushed into town, around all the cash points, there was no sign of them,” she said.
Meanwhile the bank had informed Mr Bateman that he could not cancel her bank card, only she could do so.
One hour later, Mrs Bateman went to report the crime. The gendarme was familiar with the thieves. He swivelled the computer screen around, and showed her photos of the two young women who had been in Mrs Bateman’s car that morning.
“They work in gangs,” said the gendarme. “Someone was watching you type in your pin number.”
The Quillan gendarmerie told Mrs Bateman that this sort of organised shoulder surfing has caught out hundreds of people, many of whom are elderly.
By the following morning, Mrs Bateman’s accounts made grim reading: The thieves had visited three ATMs in quick succession and withdrawn a total of €3,000.
Mrs Bateman has yet to be reimbursed for the theft, which occurred on August 7.
What should you do if your bank card is stolen?
- Block the bank card - Either call your bank or use your bank’s app.
- Tell the police or gendarmes - File a report as soon as possible. You do not need to know who took your card.
- Demand to be reimbursed - The procedures vary between banks, however they are obliged to reimburse you unless they can prove negligence on your part (writing the pin code on the back of the card for instance), if you failed to inform them about the theft, or if you waited for more than 13 months before requesting reimbursement.
If the bank does refuse reimbursement, your first action should be to contact the French banking ombundsman.
If mediation with your bank is not successful then you will have to litigate the claim in court.
How to stay safe from shoulder surfing?
“It’s very common but very difficult to catch,” said Divisional Superintendent Jean-Michel Hornus to France Bleu, whose unit in the Var launched a successful operation to catch shoulder surfers in March.
“They operate like magicians, one who attracts your attention and one who does the trick,” he said.
“If they don’t see you typing your pin code, they won’t target you,” he said. “However, once one of them has seen your pin code, you will become their target, and their singular purpose is to steal your card. This is why you have to be very vigilant as you enter your pin.”
Unfortunately for Mrs Bateman, the story is not yet over. Uncomfortable memories and worry remain, and the loss of €3,000 had a knock on effect on their holidays.
“Living in France has been an overall positive experience, but this has been such a worry. We’re hoping that by putting our story out there other people can learn from our experience at least,” she said.