Update: Abbey battles consumers over 'phantom' withdrawals

A couple are pursuing Abbey bank over withdrawals from their bank account that they claim were not authorised.


A couple are pursuing Abbey bank over withdrawals from their bank account that they claim were not authorised.

When Emma Woolf logged into her online account in early March, she expected to see a balance of £10,000 (US$16,300). Instead, she had just £23.

Woolf's account had been drained by a series of withdrawals and debit-card purchases that she said she didn't authorise, a type of fraud that has become all too common as cybercriminals have refined methods to steal money electronically.

Since then, Woolf and her fiancé Jonathan Groman have been trying to get the money refunded by Abbey National, but to no avail. They maintain that their debit card was in a locked safe at Woolf's home when the transactions took place and that no one else knew the PIN (Personal Identification Number).

"The card was never out of the safe," Groman said.

Between December and February, the withdrawals were made close to Woolf's residence. Abbey National said in a letter to Woolf that the person who initiated one of the withdrawals had two failed attempts to enter the PIN but got it right the third time.

After Woolf noticed the fraud in March, she was initially told that her card had been cloned. Abbey National then changed its story, telling Woolf her own card was used in ATM machines.

Woolf's ordeal is not unlike other so-called "phantom withdrawal" cases, where bank customers notice mysterious withdrawals from their accounts despite having possession of their cards.

Abbey National's stance on the disagreement with Woolf is based on the chip-and-PIN technology used in debit and credit cards throughout Europe. The chip in each card contains a cryptographic key unique to that card, which is used to authenticate a transaction when a four-digit PIN is entered.

"I can tell your genuine card was used because the unique chip in the card was read by the machines," wrote Karen Cross, operations manager for Abbey National, in a letter seen by IDG News Service. "The chip cannot be copied so we know it was the genuine card used and not a cloned card."

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