Pricewatch: Problems with banks prove perennial amid pandemic

One reader ‘mugged’ by an ATM, another is told to visit branch for ‘golden years’ account

“The ATM made its whirring sound but no cash came out.” Photograph: iStock

“The ATM made its whirring sound but no cash came out.” Photograph: iStock

 

We were almost relieved last week to get a couple of queries from readers that had little or nothing to do with Covid-19. They had to do with our old friends, the banks.

First up was an absurd story from a reader by the name of Davin. He got in touch with a story he aptly describes as “a memory of times gone by, when malfunctioning ATMs and stonewalling banks seemed like something to worry about”.

Davin’s tale of woe started on February 4th when he went to a Bank of Ireland ATM in the Stephen’s Green Centre, and tried to take out €100 from the machine by the door. “And then it mugged me,” he writes.

He put his card in and then he keyed in his number and selected the amount he wanted. All was going well. “The ATM made its whirring sound but no cash came out, and as there was another man on the phone near the machine looking a bit anxious, I had a sudden bad feeling. I whipped out my phone and started filming, and the man then told me the machine had withheld cash from him,” he writes.

“No cash came out of the machine for me either and then the ‘out of service’ sign popped up on the screen.”

Davin sent us a video of this unwelcome development so we can see clearly that events unfolded as he said. He was still pretty relaxed about it all.

“This can happen occasionally, but usually no money is withdrawn from your account,” he continues. “However, I just had a bad inkling about the whole thing, so I checked my Ulster Bank app and the money was indeed gone from my account. I called Ulster Bank immediately and they assured me the money would be back in my account within 48 hours. I went about my business in the Stephen’s Green Centre, but passed by again about 10 minutes later. The other victim of the ATM was still there, looking very distressed, and a member of Stephen’s Green Centre security was there too – he’d just cordoned off the ATM and said someone from Bank of Ireland was on their way, but that we had to contact our own banks for a refund.”

“You can probably guess where this is going,” our correspondent writes. Yes, yes we can.

This ATM mugger was caught red-handed on camera

The money was not refunded to him after 48 hours. “So I called up Ulster Bank again, a bit vexed, and they opened a ‘retail dispute’ via Visa. While that dispute was pending, the €100 was refunded to my account,” he says.

He thought that would be the end of it but then on St Patrick’s Day as we all waited to hear Leo’s address to the nation – that seems like a long time ago now, right? – Davin got an email saying that the retail dispute had been found in Bank of Ireland’s favour. “It seems the ATM’s log recorded the cash being dispensed,” he says.

So he called up Ulster Bank again and explained that he had video evidence of the machine not giving him any money “which they eventually acknowledged might be useful. Furthermore, whatever sort of technical malfunction occurred (or possible fraud, I guess), I imagined there was some corroborating evidence, such as the claim presumably made by the other man, a record of the call-out to a technician, or more money being allegedly dispensed by the machine than it possessed, that sort of thing.”

He figured that would be the end of it. “This ATM mugger was caught red-handed on camera, after all – but alas no.”

He mailed us last week after he got another email.

This is what it said.

“We do sympathise with your predicament but it is with regret that we are not able to continue your dispute through Visa dispute resolution. We have taken into consideration the details of your claim and the response from the retailer. Under the Visa dispute rules we have no further line of enquiry.”

As he wrote, the refund was about to be deducted from his account again “and they advise me that ‘the Trading Standards Authority or Citizens Advice Bureau they may be able to advise you further’. Better yet, I thought, why not send this to Pricewatch,” he says.

He pointed out that “at this stage, with a pandemic forcing unwelcome perspective on us, the €100 is hardly the point – but I do wonder how often these incidents occur, and how many people are being ripped off like this”.

For the sake of full disclosure, Pricewatch would like to point out that Davin is a former colleague of ours and we are pretty sure he would not go to these great lengths to try to extract €100 from his bank.

An Ulster Bank spokesperson said: “We take all customer ATM disputes very seriously and follow a standard industry process to investigate what happened. We acknowledge the specific circumstances of this dispute, which involved another bank’s ATM, and we are in the process of resolving it for our customer.”

We also heard back from Davin who said he had been told the €100 was his to keep. We understand that Bank of Ireland – which owned the ATM – maintains that it dispensed the cash.

Golden years

Then there was a reader called Peter who recently embarked on a quest to find better-value banking, recently having been prompted to do so after getting an email from the price-comparison website Bonkers.

What happened to him when he did that can, appropriately enough, be described as bonkers.

“As a Bank of Ireland customer I looked into my options on their website,” his mail starts. He found a promising lead – a page which contained this nugget: “As you enter a new chapter in your life, we can help make financial and digital tasks easier.” The same page asked readers a straightforward question: “Are you or your partner 66 years or older? If so, you can apply for a joint Golden Years account and save on fees and charges.”

So, since Peter is over 66, he logged on to the bank’s 365 Online system to see what he could do to avail of this offer.

“There was no help obvious there, so I submitted an online question asking what I needed to do to convert my account to a Golden Years account. The reply duly came back saying I must go into a branch to do this. So that’s my first gripe right there – why in this day and age and especially in these Covid times must I travel to a branch to be told there that I need to fill out a form?”

But after jumping through the hoops that the bank insisted upon, he was left feeling even more annoyed. “Having spent about 30 minutes in the branch queuing to get the form and fill it out, I was told that both parties to a joint account must be over 66 to avail of Golden Years. Now clearly that is not what is stated on the website and when I subsequently queried online whether the person I was dealing with was mistaken, I was told that was not the case.”

He was then directed not to the user-friendly page but to the dreaded terms and conditions where it says: “Two people may have a joint Account, if both people are 66 years of age or older and you apply to us for it.”

He points out that Bank of Ireland “certainly didn’t ‘help make financial and digital tasks easier’ for me! From my very first query it should have been obvious, if they cared to look, that my joint account did not qualify under their rules and whilst it may well be in the terms and conditions, nothing in the website blurb on Golden Years makes that clear.”

We contacted Bank of Ireland and it held its hands up and said sorry to our reader. “We would like to apologise to Peter for his experience and for the lack of clarity on our website, which we will fix,” a spokesman said. “We generally upgrade current accounts to Golden Years accounts annually in a batch. Customers can also do so in branch but we will review this process in light of Covid-19 to ensure customers don’t need to come in.”

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