Payment to a fraudster abroad

Category Abuse and fraud | Source Annual Report 2017/10

The client booked an apartment abroad online. In the evening of the day of concluding the contract, she transferred a deposit of around 4000 EUR to the advertiser’s account, which was held with a bank in England, via e-banking. The following day, fearing she had been the victim of fraud, she asked the bank to refund the money. The bank’s belated efforts were unsuccessful as the funds had already been credited to the advertiser’s account with the English bank and the advertiser objected to any refund. Since the English bank refused to refund the amount without the recipient’s agreement, the bank was not willing to refund the sum to the client. It did however ultimately offer to pay her 2000 EUR as a gesture of goodwill. The client accepted this offer on the Ombudsman’s recommendation.

The client intended to travel to England. Since she had always had good experiences with Airbnb offers, she looked for accommodation of this type based on specific criteria. Having found what she wanted, she booked the property online, for which she had to pay a deposit of around 4000 EUR to the advertiser in England. She made the payment via e-banking on that same day from her account in Switzerland. The research she did afterwards however soon made her question the situation and certain signs led her to suspect fraud. That is why, the following day, at 07:22, she asked her bank, electronically, to cancel the payment or, if it had already been made, to demand an immediate refund and credit the amount back to her account. In spite of these instructions issued promptly, the bank only contacted the English bank on the following day, two days after the payment was ordered via e-banking. By then however, the money had already been credited to the account held with the English bank. The latter explained that the recipient refused to reimburse the money which had already been withdrawn. Although the client acknowledged that she had been the victim of fraud, she felt that her bank in Switzerland did not respond to her request in a timely manner and did not make sufficient effort to satisfy her request. She maintained that, had the bank acted immediately on the same day that the client submitted her request for a refund, the funds could have been “intercepted” at the correspondent bank which would have prevented the loss. The client therefore asked the bank to refund the amount in question. When the bank refused, she contacted the Ombudsman.
When asked for its position, the bank responded that the payment ordered by the client on the evening of 14 November was processed at 00:16 on 15 November and was then sent to the correspondent bank at 07:02. That same day, the correspondent bank sent the payment to the recipient’s bank in England which then credited the amount to the recipient on 16 November.
In addition, regarding the refund request submitted on 15 November at 07:22 (in other words just after the payment was sent to the correspondent bank), the bank pointed out that it is only able to process requests of this nature on the day after the payment order in question. Payments do not in fact appear in the electronic archive any earlier than that and they have to be archived for searches to be performed. Added to that, on 15 November, the department responsible was overloaded with searches of this type. The bank went on to explain that it had tried, on 16 November, to obtain a refund of the payment through the correspondent bank, as is standard procedure. Unfortunately, there was no response. The bank also felt that it had not committed any wrongdoing given that it had processed the client’s payment instruction correctly. For all of these reasons, it was not willing to bear the entire loss. Keen to resolve the situation amicably and acknowledge their long-standing business relationship however, the bank offered to pay 2000 EUR as a gesture of goodwill (in other words 50% of the loss).
For the Ombudsman, this then raised the question of whether or not this offer was reasonable and whether or not he should advise the client to accept it. In the meantime the bank had gathered some information about this matter and the fact that the recipient was indeed a fraudster was no longer in doubt. The key point was now to determine whether or not the bank responded to the client’s request to either cancel or refund the payment in time and with the full diligence required. In this case, as is standard practice with international payments, the request to the English bank was submitted through the correspondent bank, by means of a standardised electronic notification. The Ombudsman was therefore of the opinion that the way in which the bank made its request was not open to criticism. Moreover, sending a direct and immediate request to the recipient’s bank without going through the correspondent bank (for example, by phone) would probably not have enabled the funds to be stopped either. Essentially then, the issue is whether not processing the client’s request until the day after it was received was timely, which is doubtful given the suspicion of fraud raised by the client. On the other hand, the Ombudsman is of the opinion that, even in such a scenario, the bank should be granted reasonable time to process the request. Moreover, there is no way of confirming that an immediate response upon receipt of the refund request would have been successful. In fact, a positive outcome could not have been ensured through the bank’s efforts alone but would have also depended on the abilities of the other banks involved, namely the correspondent bank and the recipient’s English bank. Finally, the fact that the efforts made to obtain a refund of the payment were intended to avoid a loss for which the client, as the ordering party, was responsible in the first place must be taken into consideration.
Having carefully reviewed all of the information submitted to him in this case, the Ombudsman concluded that the bank’s offer was reasonable and advised the client to accept it. The latter, who understood why the Ombudsman had reached this conclusion, followed his advice.

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