Confessions of a Post Office money launderer

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What £3,000 looks like translated into 22,000 Ghana cedis

I WAS NAILED AS A MONEY LAUNDERER the other day. Either that or my bank feared that this feeble old customer was in danger of becoming the latest victim of a clever West African conman’s ‘phishing’ trip.

You have probably had one or more of their notorious emails yourself:

‘Dear friend, Trusting God is good, I bring you great joy and wish to share with you my excellent good fortune. Having inherited $20M from a beloved cousin, but having no account of my own, I wish to bank it with you in return for a half share. All I require is details of your bank account. . .”

Yeah, yeah, yeah!

Except it WASN’T one of those. The previous day I had spent six hours slaving over a slow computer in an unsuccessful attempt to send money to my son in Ghana. Tried Western Union. FAILED! Signed up with the Post Office Moneygram system. FAILED!

So the following day I drove to Kelso, the nearest Post Office to offer the Moneygram service, to let the experts take the strain. And they did, They were courteous, friendly and reassuring and everything went swimmingly. . . until I offered my debit card to make the transaction.

“Transaction declined” the card reader informed me. I looked bleakly at the girl behind the PO counter screen who had already interrogated my state of mind.

‘Do you know who the Prime Minister is, dear?’ I’m afraid so, I told her.

‘And what year is it?’ I only got it right the second time!

‘Is anyone with you or are you out on your own?’ I pointed to my wife, which had satisfied her.

“It’ll be the large amount,” she said, sympathetically. “You didn’t warn your bank, did you?” she added mumsily, nodding at my dumb non-comprehension. “Give them a call and they’ll sort it out.”

Now this proved not to be the easiest of conversations. Mobile phone in hand, I stepped outside into Wood Market and hit the Nationwide panic button.

“Who did you say you were? I can barely hear you. . .”

You have no idea how noisy cars and lorries can sound on a cobbled street! “Banks! David B-A-N-K-S!” People across the street thought I had gone mad.

“Yes, you are through to Nationwide Bank,” said Customer Claire. “But I can hardly hear you.”

We proceeded to engage in a R-O-A-R! difficult conversation between R-O-A-R! passing convoys of un-socially-distanced huge trucks R-O-A-R! and the occasional R-O-A-R! combine harvester.

Unhappily, I appeared to have chosen to make my trip to Kelso on the day of the town’s annual Logging Lorry Convention. Still, we struggled on, Customer Claire being pleasant, sympathetic and courteous but firm, having decided that the year of my birth established this ranting baby-boomer as frail and extremely vulnerable.

After some beating about the bush regarding the importance of not being duped by ‘foreign confidence tricks’, at which West Africans apparently excel, she arrived at the nub of the problem: ““What concerns me,” rasped the Good Cop-turned-Bad Cop abruptly, “is why £3,000 was transferred from your son’s account (you could hear the italics in her voice) and deposited in your account only for you to attempt to send the same amount to your son in Ghana a few minutes later?”

I was gabbling now. The game was as good as up.

“W-w-well you see,” I shouted over the roar of traffic and to the surprise of a lengthy, socially-distanced queue which had lined up behind me, “my son – although resident in Accra – maintains a UK bank account with Nationwide, as do I.

“What he doesn’t have is a poste restante address to which we can safely send his debit and credit cards which are required to run his own account. Until he does, I administer his finances (the way I once doled out his pocket money, I felt like adding!).”

And that’s how the conversation continued (with lengthy bursts of Vivaldi while Customer Claire consulted her supervisor) for a good half-hour, punctuated by regular text messages from my son in Accra (“I’m in the bank queue, they close in twenty minutes!”) while all the time my phone battery is ticking down. . .

Yes, dear reader, you are correct: this endless tale is going nowhere extremely slowly so I shall draw it to a close, suffice only to say that:

  1. Nationwide DID unblock my debit card and Kelso Post Office duly dispatched the cash to Accra.
  2. The drama DIDN’T end there: upon arriving home I received a text message from Moneygram informing me that the process had been paused because I had omitted to provide my passport ID details.
  3. My son DID eventually receive the cash, but only 24 hours later (details of further wrinkles can be obtained on application by those readers who are still awake!).

NEXT TIME: Banksy attempts to send that bloody debit card to a newly-acquired PO Box address in Ghana. . . don’t miss it!

3 COMMENTS

  1. I am having difficulty believing you are making such a fuss over this. Two organisations were trying to protect you – Post Office and Nationwide. Perhaps you should start listening to “You and Yours”. The stories about elderly people being fleeced out of thousands and life savings are awful. You are lucky enough to be in a different position. So many complaints about how banks etc did nothing, then refuse to credit life savings back . Unfortunately for you, I am delighted to hear that two organisations are really up to the mark on this.
    I am naturally wary of phone calls but many elderly people get “reeled in” on the phone. Con men are really clever.
    Your response to the situation is disappointing – which obviously will not bother you one jot!!! no problem but I wanted to have my say!!

    • Sorry, Margaret. Obviously my attempt at self-depracatory humour has fallen flat for you: as I told both the Post Office assistant AND the Nationwide ‘s ‘Customer Claire’ (another joke!) I am quite aware of the necessity for such checks though with hindsight I rather wished they had called me the previous day to warn me that my card was blocked instead of allowing me to embarrass myself at the Post Office.
      I may consider accompanying future flights of misplaced humour with a grinning icon to assure nervous readers that all is not as serious as it might seem! — DAVID (and thanks for writing)

  2. If you think Nationwide can be a tad awkward in their application of security, try Santander! They only use mobile phones & refuse to use landlines for sending out One Time Passcodes – fine if you can get a mobile signal. Each bank has introduced different systems to meet the basic concerns. A simple process has been made needlessly complicated.

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