Teenager hit by payday loan fraud

Updated: 

Simon Oliver

A 15-year-old has been caught up in a payday loan fraud. Student Simon Oliver was setting off on a school trip, but when he tried to withdraw cash at Gatwick airport, his card was declined. It emerged that someone had taken out a payday loan in his name, and the loans company had taken the cash back from his account.

So how could this happen, and should we be worried about this?

Fraud

Wonga had taken £260.54 from his bank account. Oliver, who is now 16, contacted his bank who confirmed he had been a victim of fraud. The approach criminals take is to take out a loan in the name of their victim, and have the cash paid into a fraudulent account - in the name of the victim but which the criminal has sole access to. He then takes the money and runs.

Meanwhile, he has give details of a real bank account held by the victim as the one they will repay from. When the loans company has tried several times to secure repayment, and not seen a penny, it just takes the money back from this second, real, account. This is the first that the victim usually knows about it.

Oliver was just one of the people who has contacted the BBC regarding this crime. The Watchdog programme says that the number of victims it has on record has hit 350 - which is clearly just a fraction of the number of people who have been caught up in this crime.

Worrying

This particular case is worrying because customers of the payday loans firm have to be 18, so although Wonga has a rigorous policy of checks in order to avoid fraud - somehow it ended up giving a loan to someone pretending to be a 15-year-old.

As we reported last month, payday loans have been under scrutiny over their fraud prevention techniques, after increasing reports of fraud. Wonga first featured on the Watchdog programme in August and September last year, where it confirmed its commitment to fraud prevention.

Wonga said in a statement to the BBC this week: "We regret every case of fraud that gets through and, like every major web company, we are committed to cracking down on cybercrime. It added: "As we explained on the show last year, fraud is an on-going challenge and we are continually investing in our anti-fraud measures."

It also emphasised that: "The unique speed of our lending decisions, which are automated using sophisticated algorithms and thousands of pieces of public data, does not undermine their accuracy and our advanced systems catch the majority of criminal attempts. Unfortunately no solution is 100% foolproof but we are never complacent."

Clearly there are still some fraudulent transactions slipping through the net. On the Twitter account @aloadofWonga, seven cases were reported this morning alone. So you need to take steps to protect yourself.

Protect yourself

There are some basic tips which will help prevent all types of bank fraud, such as keeping passwords and PINs safe - and never letting your card out of your sight.

When you give anyone your card details - whether on the phone or online - you should ensure that it's a company you know and trust. If in doubt - don't hand your details over.

You should also check your bank statements very carefully for all transactions you don't recognise, and then shred any old bank statements or letters from the bank before you throw them away.

And you should be very careful if you are contacted by anyone asking for any account details, passwords or account numbers. They may seem bona fide - they may even appear to be your bank - but it's best to err on the side of caution, and refuse to pass on details. You can always phone your bank or go into a branch to check if they need any information from you.

It's a sad state of affairs when we have to suspect everyone in order to protect ourselves - however it's a pretty sad day when 15-year-olds can be victims of bank fraud too.

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