On the 24th July we woke up early on a sunny Sunday morning to the shock and horror of 5 fraudulent transactions taken during the night from our Portuguese bank account. Some A hole was spending our money whilst we were sleeping! Hubby received an email notifying him of the transactions which had already left our account! They only emailed to say that as the transactions were “Foreign” the bank would be charging us a foreign exchange fee and service charge per transaction. Pure hell fire set in and I very nearly wet myself. Firstly I would like to explain that when we initially relocated to Portugal we needed a bank account immediately as we purchased our house within weeks so urgency was paramount and our lovely estate agent recommended Millenium Bank in Arganil. We were totally satisfied with our bank account for a year or two but were shocked to realise that all bank accounts in Portugal carry monthly fees as well as other associated fees for cards etc. In the U.K many bank accounts that don’t offer interest are available without any monthly fees. After a little research I discovered that the 2 main bank accounts on the high street that don’t charge fees are Activo and CTT. There are a few other alternative options but we wanted a high street bank not just an online facility. Activo are actually under the umbrella of Millenium Bank and connected to them and CTT are the Post Office. I was swayed towards Activo as they have an English website which makes the language barrier easier as my Portuguese is still pants, I know, I do try, honest (ha ha). At least I can order a coffee and a nata, my priorities are high and usually include my stomach and yummy food (ha ha). 

The issue with Activo is they don’t have many physical high street branches and because we live in a small village in Central Portugal the nearest physical branch to walk into is in Alma Shopping Mall in Coimbra which is 1 hrs drive from our home. This didn’t bother us too much as we rarely venture into an actual branch as everything is online or direct debits/standing orders etc. We have been completely satisfied with Activo up until now. The staff in the actual branch opened our accounts immediately and although there was a long delay with some error with hubby’s paperwork and payslips being faxed to their head office we eventually walked out of the bank with an account open and they can even print your bank cards then and there. We were in there so long they shut the doors and I thought they were going to offer us dinner (ha ha). You can be waiting a while to be seen as there is a ticketing system. When you arrive you take a numbered ticket from a machine and input your telephone number then they message you when it’s your turn. Timings can vary as often people are opening accounts so the couple of members of staff can be with each customer for 1-2 hours or in our case longer! It’s not the usual system of a bank teller where a customer just joins a queue.

You can do multiple research and ask for personal recommendations but no one really knows how good a company is until the “Shit hits the fan”. It’s like anything in life. Insurance companies e.g. car or house insurance, we all pay our premiums and think we will be given a good professional service but until you actually have a problem and have to deal with their complaints and claims dept you never know how good they are. I was once with British Gas for a boiler cover (monthly payment) and it was supposed to cover all leaks with pipes. When we had a leak they visited, investigated and cut a huge hole in the ceiling of our toilet below then said we were not covered and left the huge gaping hole. My mouth was left with an even bigger gaping hole (GASP)!

Naming & Shaming – ACTIVO

I know I am now naming and shaming this bank but I would also like to reiterate a few facts and things. Firstly this could happen to absolutely anyone and any bank. I’m not going to list all the ways that this could have happened because the options are endless. It’s so easy to skim a card these days even if you use it in a reputable store/site (it’s not one of my hobbies as I much prefer naked gardening (ha ha). I’m an honest lady and HATE liars, thieves and dishonesty. There is also an increase in cards being cloned at cash machines. Fraudsters are very clever these days and we are super careful with our cards. I have lived for nearly 50 years and this has never happened to me before whilst living in the U.K. Hubby’s line of work and business is IT, he is a Softwear Engineer/Web Developer Manager so knows everything there is about online security and fraud prevention. We rarely buy from the Internet, are very careful with our cards and we only purchase from legitimate retailers and anything we are unsure of we use a virtual digital card which we delete after using. We also try to use MBWay when possible. We have no way of establishing how this fraud occurred so it’s a mystery that remains a matter of the police to investigate. 

Why we changed our Bank Account?

There are a few reasons why we decided to change bank accounts immediately. I would like to clarify that the main reason is because we have lost all TRUST in our bank and are FED UP of their wishy washy responses when we have a genuine question. We are passed from pillar to post and cannot ever get a straight answer which is frustrating as HELL!

  1. Lack of telephone support on weekends to speak to an actual person. The Activo bank telephone support line wasn’t open until 12 Midday to speak to an actual person on a Sunday so we had a long few stressful hours wait. There is an automated service 24/7 where we tried to phone to cancel our card but there was no option for English. I did have my ex Carlos on hand who is fluent in Portuguese to help us but it wasn’t necessary as by 12 when staff arrived there is an English option.
  2. The member of staff we first spoke to when we reported the incident was very rude and abrupt. She would not speak to me although we have a joint bank account she would only speak to hubby and concluded the conversation with a very nasty tone. She also estimated the investigation to last 1-6 months and kept blaming Visa for letting the transactions leave our account! When we tried to ask about security measures we were told that only payments over €500 are flagged up so multiple fraudulent payments of €499 could have magically disappeared from our account and they would have done shit all. OUTRAGEOUS! The member of staff confirmed that 3D secure only works if the company where the money is being spent also has 3D secure. So it’s useless as most fraudsters won’t try and spend my stolen money with a company who has 3D secure. It’s absolutely insane that I can’t put a block on any foreign transactions. She also said if you don’t want to get scammed don’t use your bank card! She ended the call with a shitty statement. “Do you want me to cancel your card and start an investigation or not?” It was said so sarcastically as I challenged their security measures. This made us worry that she hadn’t cancelled our card so we decided to visit the bank after work the very next day.
  3. I still cannot fathom why our bank let 5 fraudulent payments leave our account in the middle of the night (3am) in Chilean pesos and paid to someone in Malta. Why the hell this was not flagged up is beyond me, we haven’t left the country in over 2.5 years!  When I had a U.K. bank account and went on holiday to Paris and Portugal without notifying my bank they flagged up my foreign transactions as suspicious and wouldn’t allow them to go through. Surely 5 foreign transactions at 3am is suspicious activity.
  4. When we physically visited Activo Bank in Coimbra we spoke to a lovely man but he didn’t know much. I wanted to know a few basic facts which he should have been able to provide. I could not find any steps that Activo takes once a fraud is reported so all I wanted to know was (A) What is their defined process to follow (approved by the PT banking licensing authority (same as FCA/PRA in the U.K). (B) A copy of their fraud policy and plan of action/next steps so we have a clear indication of the time frame. I also had a couple of general account questions: Can I put a stop on all overseas transactions as I rarely leave the country? Can I set a maximum for a single transaction e.g. €300? Do I have an overdraft authorised or unauthorised? Because if I do the fraudsters could have spent a lot more and we don’t need an overdraft facility. The member of staff could not answer any of these questions which we found bizarre. He just seemed to want to share stories about fraud and how it can happen. He suggested we put it in writing via the message facility on the bank’s website or App. We did this as soon as we returned home and surprise surprise, we got no reply. Well actually that is a lie, I got no response to my questions but hubby received an automated response to his complaint. They said that he had to phone the helpline and NOT put it in writing, WTF!
  5. The messaging/complaints section on the website is horrendous and only allows 150 characters! What can one write in 150 characters? Not words but singles letters, STUPID! You do have space to write “YOU SUCK MORE THAN BORIS JOHNSON” (ha ha).
  6. There are highly likely more reasons but I’m just overjoyed that we got the refund without a major battle so I’m all over the place emotionally at the moment and still recovering from my wisdom tooth extraction. I also have menopausal fog brain so i’m actually surprised I can even write a blog post because most days I can’t even string a sentence together (ha ha). I took much joy visiting the bank on 4 consecutive days to withdraw hubby’s hard earned cash. As soon as I got the wad of euros in my hand I started singing “I’ve got money in my pocket” on repeat and continued the whole journey home much to hubby’s delight (ha ha). 

Timeframe

24/07/22 X5 Fraudulent transactions 1-5

24/07/22 Phoned & cancelled card & bank has started investigation

24/07/22 Email sent to Activo bank with attached letter

24/07/22 Received reply need to message via website or App & not use the email

25/07/22 Re sent letter via Activo website

25/07/22 GNR Arganil (Marco Simoes) He told us to email all info

25/07/22 Visited Activo branch, Alma Shopping

25/07/22 Email to GNR with attached letter & copy of ID & screenshot transactions

25/07/22 Irate Helen sent 2 questions via bank app asking:

  1. Can I block foreign transactions to countries outside of Portugal
  2. Can I set a maximum limit on individual card transactions?
  3. I wanted to ask another question about why they couldn’t freeze our account but ran out of space!

26/07/22 2 more transactions occurred 6 & 7, Phone call to bank who confirmed 10

26/07/22 GNR phoned confirming the receipt of our email 

26/07/22 Message to Bank via website explaining the 5 more transactions

27/07/22 Red book complaint – On 24/07/22 5 fraudulent transactions were taken from my bank account. The transactions totalled 1.054,34 (including fees) were made in Chilean pesos and paid to a business in Malta. We notified the bank immediately on 24/07/22 and they cancelled our card and have started an investigation. We sent our complaint to Activo bank via the banking website messaging system on 25/07/22 and we also visited the Activo branch in Alma Shopping Coimbra. The member of staff at the branch could not give us any information or answer any of our questions and said we needed to message Activo bank via the website or App. On 25/07/22 we also reported this matter to the GNR in Arganil. A further 2 transactions totalling 343,28 were taken on 26/07/22 although we had cancelled our card on 24/07/22 which is unacceptable. We telephoned the bank again on 25/07/22 who confirmed that there are a total of 10 transactions not 5 totalling over 2.000. The bank did not flag up these fraudulent transactions and have continued to allow a total of 10 transactions to leave our account. They will not freeze our account. We are very dissatisfied with the bank’s response that an investigation can take 1-6 months. We need access to our money immediately which was fraudulently taken from our account. 

28/07/22 Payments 6 & 7 appear to be back in our account now!

Pure Joy

08/05/22 Replacement bank card arrived after 12 days and so did a REFUND! It was sheer delight when we received this following text message and a full refund of €1054.34. I took a few days to make this post live as I wanted to withdraw the whole amount. It took 4 consecutive days of visiting a cashpoint to obtain all our money as there is a maximum of €400 limit per day. The satisfaction of seeing hubby’s cash in my little hands was heaven on earth. I could have transferred the money to our new bank account but I didn’t want any connection between the two banks, I wanted a final farewell to Activo bank.

Assunto: Credito do(s) valor(es) reclamado(s) – Reclamacao que nos dirigiu sobre movimento(s) de cartao (N/ referencia XXXXX. Apesar da necessaria analise da situacao que nos expos por entidades externas ao banco (rede emissora do cartao e/ou rede de suporte da transacao), mas atentos a exposicao que nos dirigiu e consideracao que V Exa nos merece, procedemos, nesta data, ao credito provisorio do(s) v alor(es) por si reclamado(s).Na expectativa da sua compreensao apresentamos os nossos melhores cumprimentos, Banco ActivoBank SA.

Informacoes adicionais sobre o tratamento de reclamacoes podem ser obtidas em www.activobank.pt ou junto de qualquer Ponto Activo.

I find it funny that they used the words “Provisional credit” as I understand the word provisional as meaning it may possibly be changed at a later date. Better still the phrase “Card movements” instead of card fraud. I can only assume that they did a brief investigation and decided to reimburse us as we were not in the wrong and if the police find anything to contradict this it could change the outcome in the future, who bloody knows. I am still intrigued as to what our money was spent on as although the bank reimbursed us the fraudster still got our money and spent it and most probably they stole thousands of other people’s money too.

08/08/2022 The bank sent us an email basically confirming the same as what they had previously said in their text message. They confirmed that after our red book complaint they have proceeded to provisionally credit our account with the full amount and if after receiving the invoices from the company that got the money, if it is found they are due, it will be debited again. My response to that is “Good luck with trying to get blood from a stone and if you think we stole our own money and spent it in Malta with Chilean pessos then you are clearly a few ants short of a picnic” (ha ha). I feel that this goes to show that the Red Book complaints did really help speed up our refund but who really knows for sure.

Fraudulent Transactions

  1. 235.76  9.08  0.36 
  2. 353.63  13.61  0.54 
  3. 235.76  9.08  0.36 
  4. 94.30  3.63  0.15 
  5. 94.30  3.63  0.15 €1054.34 TOTAL THAT WENT
  6. 235.76  9.08  0.36
  7. 94.30  3.63  0.15 (SO FAR AT THIS STAGE €1397.60 THESE 2 RETURNED)
  8. 353.63  13.61  0.54 (THESE 3 DIDN’T GO) 
  9. 235.76  9.08  0.36
  10. 94.30  3.63  0.15

GRAND TOTAL €2108.68

Always Open a Door for a Lady

I think it’s common courtesy to open a door for anyone (including males and not just females). If I get to a door first I always do this. I knew the good news couldn’t last for long. When we visited cashpoint to withdraw the first instalment of our refund (because cashpoints have a maximum of €400 cash withdraw per day) I suggested we should use the indoor cashpoint. I scanned my card on the door and hubby opened the heavy metal door then proceeded to let it go on my foot! So it sliced a chunk out of my little toe and the door jam very nearly ripped my F’ing toe off. I think he broke it! My toe not the door. I wanted to cry but a lady followed us in which she shouldn’t have really done, apparently her card didn’t work on the door then she stood directly behind us so I gave her the death stare and she left (ha ha).

Dirty Bottoms

That door bottom is dirtier than my own bottom so now I’m worried it’s going to get infected so I’m not speaking to hubby for 30 minutes. We are sat in the garden with the chickens and I’m talking to them instead as they don’t hurt me. He did buy me 2 desserts to compensate in the local shop but my tooth is still hurting and I’d rather have my toe intact than a sugar rush. There was a marching band outside the cashpoint to kick off a local festival all banging drums and cymbals but I think the band were there personally to celebrate my victory!

Recommendations

This is what we are personally going to do in the immediate future to combat bank fraud happening again as I have enough grey hairs (ha ha).

  1. Take the opportunity of using all of our bank’s additional security measures.
  2. We withdrew our remaining balance and opened a new bank account and are starting from scratch. What I LOVE about our new bank is the lady who opened our account speaks perfect English and gave us her direct phone line number and we can message her via the App. There is a physical branch less than 30 mins from our home which is a bonus. I am not willing to share the name of our new bank for security reasons (ha ha) and it does come with a small monthly fee but in my eyes it’s worth every penny. Hubby is earning a high salary and sometimes “The best things in life are free” but other times “You get what you pay for in life”.
  3. We have new credit cards and are planning to use a combination of cash and no debit card transactions and put all expenditure on credit cards then pay off in full every month fot the added protection.
  4. If we need to buy an item online we will use a temp virtual card then delete immediately.
  5. The obvious: Keeping card info up to date, creating strong passwords, protecting devices, allowing alerts for App, using biometric recognition, firewall, checking privacy settings and knowing red flags for scams.

Overview

As I have said, bank fraud can happen to anyone. There were over 2.5 million cases of fraud last year in the U.K and the numbers continue to increase so we were just one of many. Not very helpful especially with my anxiety and stress levels but it’s the whole truth and nothing but the truth! This process was a pain in the posterior but it’s good to know that most folk do get their money back. We were incredibly lucky that we were not relying on this money to pay our rent or buy food as this would have broken some folk. I am happy that it only took a short 12 days to receive our refund as I had nightmares that it could drag on for months and that I would have to fight and escalate it to the Ombudsman but I was dedicated to fight to the bitter end and receive justice. I was hoping for peaceful combat as I’m way too old to chain myself to a radiator in the bank and unfortunately my IBS (constipation dominant) does not allow me to dirty protest on demand so I would of had to borrow a large dog to shit on their floor on my behalf (ha ha). I do think reporting it to the Police and completing the official complaints red book did speed up the process. 

I am overjoyed that this situation is rectified and we have our cash back. It was time consuming opening new bank accounts and changing all our direct debits etc. but worth it for peace of mind. We were in a race against time because this happened at the end of the month and hubby’s salary was due in his bank account within days and there was no way on earth that I was going to allow the fraudster to take a whole month’s salary. I am inpatient and hate the waiting game so it wasn’t easy. It was a horrendous experience to keep seeing transactions continuing to disappear from our account and trying to rush to the cashpoint and withdraw the maximum €400 so we could beat the fraudsters to our own money. I even contemplated setting my alarm for 4am to save my cash (ha ha). I’m not actually laughing about this situation just yet as it’s just too raw and really rocked me emotionally. Money is a difficult subject for me as I’ve never really been financially secure until now and hubby works so hard and long hours for his money. 

Hubby now wants to buy a SUP foil! I had to break the harsh reality to him, that this isn’t a windfall or a lottery win, it’s our monthly budget expenditure for food and bills. So he can either have food, water, gas, elec and internet or he can starve and speed SUP. If he goes against my wishes I will retaliate and buy my very own personal butler in the buff but not from Malta in Chilean pesos (ha ha). Were we overzealous and did we jump the gun in changing banks so rapidly? In my opinion NO because it was one thing for the situation to occur and but the level of customer service we received in my opinion was not acceptable and the fact that we couldn’t get any answers to our questions and we may have questions we need answering in the near future makes us believe we made the right choice for us personally. My final advice: Shit Happens, most things work out in the end and some things take more time than others. If in doubt my consultation is Caffeine & Chicken Therapy (ha ha).