A Break

Date posted on April 15, 2010

Thank you God, for giving me a break.

Today, my London account was credited with £1,342.81!

That’s how much money I lost to fraudulent direct debits from my account. How that happened in the first place, I still don’t know, but I’m sure glad I found out before it got much worse.

Last Sunday, on my way to church with my cousins, I received an overseas call from my London bank’s collections department because it appeared my account had been overdrawn. I couldn’t believe it because I left it with enough money and I never used my debit card since coming back to the Philippines more than one month ago. I asked what the last transactions were, and none of them sounded familiar. She mentioned mobile phone accounts (notice the plural) and cable subscriptions, among other things. My heart raced as it dawned on my that these were not mine. Identity theft and account-hacking is quite common in the UK. I can now count myself as one of the victims.

It’s a good thing that I left London with not much money in my ATM. I spent a huge amount paying for advanced rent on my room to cover for the months that I’d be here in the Philippines shooting my grad film. Besides, all money I had, I had to take and add to my film’s production budget. As a result, I left just enough money to keep my account’s required maintaining balance.

Because of that, it allowed my account to be completely overdrawn (read: zero balance) because of these automatic, unauthorized direct debits.

I asked the collections agent what I ought to do since this was clearly a cause for alarm – those transactions were definitely not by me and I wanted to stop it before more money got taken. She advised me to contact my bank.

The accounts specialists were helpful right off. They blocked these fraudulent direct debits that had been going on since August 2008.

August 2008! That’s two years now! Just three months within my arrival in the UK! My friend who met up with me last Sunday evening asked how much money I lost. I didn’t want to alarm her any further, so I said just a couple of hundred quid. Well, the truth is it’s almost a hundred thousand pesos. It really is partly my fault for not being vigilant enough in scrutinizing every item in my account summary every month. Though to my defense, it was really difficult to detect cause they were small amounts that just accumulated over two years (some debits were as huge as £50 at a time). I guess I just never noticed because I use that same account’s debit card for all my transactions. I almost never bring cash when I’m in London, and that makes it harder to monitor the spending and the balance after every card debit.

The bank people said that they’ll start an investigation. When I asked, they said I didn’t have to contact these companies who made direct debits anymore. If all went well, I could expect to see that money deposited back into my account by Tuesday, after two working days. They also made me call a security company for consultation and to help me regarding my problem. This company, Red24, gave me tips on how to increase security protocols for my bank accounts. However, when I asked if they’re optimistic about me getting my money back, they said that there’s no guarantee. At best, I’d get it back in no time. At worst, I would have to take it to court and find ways to prove that I really didn’t make these transactions – something that looked extremely difficult as it seemed like I’ve been a victim of identity cloning (for all these direct debits to be happening consistently and over a long period of time). After that, there really wasn’t anything else to do but to be stressed, and wait.

I avoided checking my account cause I didn’t want to be disappointed, but today, I finally did… and there it was – my money back! I really didn’t expect it to be resolved that quickly, and efficiently – though I’m crazy glad that it was.

It’s a rough way to learn a lesson, but well worth it. I’m just thankful for the break!

Something to lift my spirit up amid the chaos of grad film preprod 🙂