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Chip and pin problems

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X-Ray production team X-Ray production team | 15:10 UK time, Monday, 7 March 2011

When Bert and Catherine Lewis heard their fourth grandchild was on its way, they were excited and keen to help out. So just before the due date, Mrs Lewis headed off to London to be with her daughter.

But instead of happy memories, a stolen debit card left the pensioner severely out of pocket and in a nine-month battle with her bank.

Bert and Catherine Lewis

Bert and Catherine Lewis

Last June, Catherine had been helping out her daughter when they went on a trip to the supermarket to buy the weekly shop. After parking in the car park, Catherine checked she had her purse in her bag and they both went for a coffee first before returning to do the food shop.

When she came to pay she realised her purse was gone. After searching for the purse, she reported it missing to the police and cancelled all of her bank cards, including her joint NatWest card.

A total of £1,195.95 had been taken from her account, with purchases made at Marks and Spencer, Argos and Superdrug. Money was also withdrawn from a cash machine. But while the police and family members told her not to worry and that the bank would reimburse the stolen money, the Lewises soon discovered it was not going to be as easy as that.

Because the correct PIN had been used with Catherine's card during the purchases, NatWest said they were not going to refund the money. They said on "the balance of probabilities" the PIN must have been written down somewhere in the purse.

The Lewises denied writing the PIN down, and Catherine said she learnt the number when the bank gave it to her in 2002 and never needed to keep a note of it.

For the next nine months the couple wrote letters to their bank and complained about the decision. They were adamant the PIN hadn't been written down. But NatWest wouldn't change its mind. Losing the money was bad enough for the couple, but Catherine said it was made worse when the bank wouldn't believe them.

She said, "It made me feel dirty, criminal. They were making me a criminal for what I hadn't done."

James Daley from Which? Money said criminals are working out ways to get round security measures.

"We know that gangs of criminals are increasingly clever at getting hold of people's PIN and using that with the card later on which they have stolen," he said. "And it can look to the bank that that's just been the customer taking their card out to the cash machine. But we know that these kind of cases are on the rise and it's up to the banks to prove the customer was negligent, and in many cases they're not as quick to do that as they should be."

New rules introduced in November 2009, known as the Payment Service Regulations, mean the banks, not the customer, must now prove the fraud. And they must have actual evidence the customer has been negligent. And even if they are suspicious of fraud, they have to refund immediately and then investigate.

James said: "If you have been a victim of fraud and you're absolutely sure you didn't write down your PIN, you weren't negligent in any way, then the law is on your side: you're entitled to your money back and you need to go to your bank and make sure they give it to you."

We contacted NatWest and brought these new regulations to their attention. And after nine months of telling the Lewises they weren't entitled to a refund, they've now given back all the money taken after Catherine's card was lost: £1,191.

They'll also be sending the Lewises £100 compensation.


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