Do you have an issue you need put right? Which? is here to help get your consumer problems sorted.
In May 2021, a scammer posing as a legitimate car retailer stole more than £25,000 of my life savings.
Our daughter was five months old at the time and we urgently needed a safe and reliable family car to get our young family around, so I did some research online and came across Flipping Cars Ltd.
Flipping Cars appeared to be an established company that sourced cars at auction on behalf of private buyers. I researched the company and its directors, using online reviews and Companies House to check its legitimacy. With hundreds of positive reviews and Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) compliance since 2015, I was satisfied it was a genuine business.
I then paid a £495 search fee. A suitable vehicle was found at auction and I was asked to pay £25,250 for the vehicle via bank transfer and a contract was sent to me. A delivery date in June was agreed for the vehicle and we awaited the arrival of our family car.
Several weeks passed, with a number of excuses claiming there were problems with the car, but that they would issue a refund.
Neither the car nor a refund ever arrived.
After following up with the auction house, it transpired that the vehicle in question was sold to a completely different purchaser the day before the scammer requested payment. The scammer never intended to supply the vehicle I paid for.
I reported the scam to my bank, NatWest, in August. I was told that since I didn't physically inspect the car in person, despite living under lockdown restrictions, I had not completed adequate due diligence on the purchase. In the last letter I received from Natwest, it said it had reached its final decision and would not reimburse me.
I don't know what else to do.
Oliver Wright, Essex
Lauren Deitz, consumer rights expert at Which?, says:
This is a truly unfortunate set of events and there was clearly little indication that you were being led on by a scammer.
You certainly weren't alone in losing money to the Flipping Cars scam either. A few months after you lost your money, the FCA issued a warning about Flipping Cars Ltd and its practices of asking for advanced fee payment.
Which? has since discovered that other banks, including HSBC and Nationwide, have reimbursed customers who’ve lost money to this scam.
The authorised push payment (APP) scam code is currently a voluntary code that most banks are signed up to. The purpose of this code is to ensure that faultless victims of scams are reimbursed. Given the extensive research you carried out at the time and your personal circumstances, we think you should have been reimbursed.
We appealed to NatWest about your case, but disappointingly it stated: 'Criminals often use techniques to convince customers to act quickly to secure a purchase. We would always advise against handing over any money until you have seen what you are buying. If we see suspicious activity on an account we will flag this to a customer and give scam and fraud advice. Unfortunately, in this instance our customer insisted on making the transfer despite the fraud and scam advice provided.'
Last year, the Financial Ombudsman called on banks to do more to ensure scam victims are reimbursed at the first instance – when they appeal to their bank – after the watchdog warned that it had overturned more than 75% of bank decisions.
The treatment of scam victims between banks is still far too inconsistent. In a bid to level the landscape, the Financial Conduct Authority recently announced that the voluntary APP scam code will soon become mandatory. Which? also wants to see banks publish reimbursement rates of scam victims so that it's possible to see which offer the greatest support for scam victims.
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