A reader was left €4,000 out of pocket after a fraudster stole the identity of her builder and then her bank claimed she was too slow to report the problem.
Jacqueline Saunders, 66, had requested a quote from a builder with whom she had not worked before, and replied to his email agreeing to the price.
“Half an hour later, I received an email which appeared to come from the same address, requesting that I make the deposit by bank transfer and attaching a RIB,” she told The Connexion.
“I thought nothing of this as I regularly pay tradesmen by bank transfer, and so transferred €4,150. The same day, I posted the signed devis and a copy of the transfer details in the mason’s letterbox.”
Two days later, the builder phoned to say that the email requesting the transfer had not come from him, nor did the bank details belong to him.
All emergency telephone numbers were closed
On verification, she noticed that while the sender had used his name, when she clicked to see the address, it was not quite identical.
“I immediately tried to contact the emergency help numbers for my bank, Banque Rhône Alpes, but that weekend all of their emergency numbers were closed as they were in the process of merging with Société Générale, and I was unable to contact them at all.”
Instead, Ms Saunders, who is originally from the UK and now lives near Grenoble, sent an email to the bank, and was contacted five days later by the fraud department, which forwarded some forms to complete.
Bank told her she had taken too long
A week later, it requested she make a complaint to the police.
By this point, she was away in the United States, and was therefore unable to finalise the complaint until she returned two weeks later.
At that point, she says, the bank informed her it was unable to refund her money as she had taken too long to make the complaint.
She claims this was not made sufficiently clear from the beginning.
“I feel as though the person dealing with it didn’t know what the time limits were. Every time they sent a message, it got more urgent.”
Société Générale said it was unable to comment on specific cases.
Two types of bank fraud in France
The value of bank transfer fraud tripled between 2017 and 2022, from €78million to €313million, data from the Banque de France shows. Individuals and small businesses are most affected.
French law distinguishes between two types of bank fraud.
If you did not make the transfer yourself, you have 13 months to inform your bank (or 70 days if the recipient’s bank account is outside the EU). The bank must immediately refund the money, with the only exception being if the victim was negligent.
New recommendations from the Banque de France advise banks to refund clients if there is even the smallest doubt, and to take back the money later if an investigation finds they were indeed negligent.
However, if you approve the transfer before realising it is to a fraudulent account, as is the case here, the process is more complicated.
The bank can initiate a ‘recall’ procedure to recover the funds.
‘You really only have 24 hours to recall funds’
“If it was an instant transfer, this is unlikely to be effective. If it was not instant, you really have 24 hours for it to be effective, otherwise you need to obtain the agreement of the beneficiary, or the beneficiary’s bank needs to be aware of an irregularity and decide to block the sum,” said Maître Florian Desbos, a Lyon lawyer whose expertise includes banking law.
“The more time passes, the less likely it is to work, as the account could be closed, or the money could be transferred on, meaning the bank cannot block it.”
He said banks usually require the client to file a complaint with the police, as they need a valid reason to initiate the recall procedure.
In certain cases, the bank might be deemed responsible for not doing all it could to issue a recall, including by not providing a working emergency contact, but Maître Desbos said it would be up to a judge to decide.
He recommended contacting a lawyer knowledgeable about bank fraud to advise on a specific case.
He said his law firm, SCP Desbos Barou, has seen an increase in the number of cases related to bank transfer fraud since Covid.